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Drive Local

This article was co-authored by Larry Taylor and Lynda Aiman-Smith


It was a typically sunny and mild day in Silver City. We bundled into the car early to beat the crowd at the grocery store’s monthly Senior Discount Day. After buying six big bags of food that easily fit in our “trunk,” we stopped at the pharmacy across the street to pick up a prescription and hurried home before any of the frozen items started to thaw.

A little later that afternoon we bought five big bags of steer manure at our friendly hardware store, used the ATM machine at the local credit union and after dropping off the sacks of fertilizer near the garden drove out to Bear Mountain Lodge and hiked one of the beautiful trails nearby. Later we met with friends at one of the eateries in the historic downtown district. After returning home, I reflected on those various trips. We had driven more than twenty miles that day running our local errands, but we had consumed no gasoline. As I plugged the extension cord into our vehicle, using free electricity generated by our solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the house, I realized that, as usual, our electric car cost nothing to operate.

Choosing a vehicle to fit our local environment

When you read news articles about electric cars, you will note they usually discuss major manufacturers. These include cars like the Nissan Leaf, the Mitsubishi I MiEV, Toyota Prius Plug-in or the Chevy Volt.  Silver City has some unique characteristics that allowed us to look at another class of electric vehicles --- the NEV or neighborhood electric vehicle. NEVs are low speed vehicles. NEVs in many states, including New Mexico, are restricted to roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. As of February 2012, NEVs are street-legal in 46 states. Because of federal law, car dealers cannot legally sell the vehicles to go faster than 25 mph. This is accomplished by an electronic governor, or speed limiter, that prevents the NEV from going faster.  

After conducting some online research into NEVs for sale in New Mexico, we soon focused on a line of vehicles manufactured by Global Electric Motorcars (GEM). The GEM is the world's top selling NEV, with cumulative global sales of more than 45,000 units since 1998. GEM cars have a range of up to 30 miles on a charge. They are battery-electric, operate on a 72-volt battery system and plug into a standard 110-volt outlet for recharging, and fully recharge in six to eight hours. GEM was founded in 1992 by a team of ex-General Motors engineers and produced its first NEV in 1998 at a facility in Fargo, North Dakota. GEM was sold to Polaris Industries in 2011. Polaris moved the GEM manufacturing plant to Spirit Lake, Iowa, late in 2011.  

Silver City is a perfect driving environment to Drive Local with an electric NEV.  Most of the streets within the city limits are posted 35 mph or below Moreover, it is not against the law to cross a highway posted over 35 mph, so it is even possible to drive to the Silver City golf course, for example. We projected that most of our in-town driving needs could be accomplished by driving the much less expensive GEM as opposed to the electric cars offered by the major auto manufacturers.
How much less expensive is the GEM? At the time we purchased our GEM vehicle, the base price was only $7,500. It is currently still under $8,000 at $7,829. This is much less expensive than the lowest priced non-NEV auto, the Mitsubishi I MiEV that starts at $21,625.

Running the numbers

Before we purchased, we did a rough estimate of the operational costs of driving the Toyota Corolla vs driving the GEM. The GEM uses no gasoline, no oil, no radiator fluid, no transmission fluid. There is essentially zero maintenance (except keeping the tires properly inflated), and our one anticipated replacement cost will be another set of gel batteries in about 7 years. The insurance on the GEM turned out to cost about half of the insurance on the Toyota Corolla. License fees were less.  

Actual savings after driving one year and 2700 miles = $628

We have a solar photovoltaic system on our house, so our electricity costs to run our GEM are zero.  Even at current and probable future PNM rates, the costs to drive a GEM will be far less than driving a gasoline-powered car. For a car that gets 25mpg, and at a fuel cost of $3.50/gallon, you are paying about 14 cents for every mile you drive. For a GEM car, you will pay about 50 cents to drive 30 miles, or less than 2 cents for every mile you drive.  

The Future

Electric cars have a strong future. More and more automobile manufacturers are making electric vehicles, and more and more people are driving them. When you see us in our aerodynamic egg-shaped GEM, give us a wave. We are happy to talk anytime about Driving Local in our electric car.

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