Electric vehicles create a buzz

Cayman is about to finally see electric vehicles on its roads.

Although some issues relating to registering electric cars remain, the Zap! Xebra, distributed in Cayman by Eco Tech, finds an elegant way around it, as this three-wheeled electric vehicle is classified as a motorcycle.

‘The vehicle is classified from the manufacturer as a three-wheeled motorcycle, and is treated as such under our law,’ said Stephen Quinland of the Department of Vehicle and Driver Licensing.

The Traffic Law (2003) defines a motorcycle as ‘a motor vehicle, not being an invalid carriage, with less than four wheels, which is used for the transport of people’ while making no mention of the type of propulsion required.

The vehicle, which is manufactured in China, undergoes final assembly in California and Kentucky.

Two basic versions of the vehicle will be available in Cayman – a two-seater pickup and a four-seater sedan, both of which meet US Department of Transportation standards.

The first owner of a Xebra in Cayman is Eden Bodden of West Bay.

‘To me it is just the same as a little small car. It is a perfect thing for the Cayman Islands,’ said Mr. Bodden, who drives a Xebra pickup.

The vehicle is capable of a top speed of 40 miles per hour with a range of up to 40 miles.

According to Mr. Bodden, charging the vehicle could not be easier.

‘I just plug it in at night in an ordinary 110V outlet,’ he said.

A full charge takes approximately eight hours.

According to the Cayman Islands distributor for Zap!, the vehicles can charge overnight for around a dollar, generating significant saving for users.

Even when the emissions caused by the generation of power are taken into account, these cars are still some 90 per cent cleaner than their internal combustion engine counterparts.

Although the somewhat limited range of electric vehicles is often viewed as a drawback, the size of the Cayman Islands as well as the average daily commute makes the Xebra every bit as practical as any other small car or pickup.

As the Xebra is driven by an electric motor, it lacks all the oil and coolant that could leak from a regular car driven by an internal combustion engine.

There is even the option of fitting a solar panel above the load bed of the pickup version of the Xebra or on the roof of the sedan, allowing the vehicle to charge while parked in sunshine.

‘I like to think of it as the VW Beetle of electric vehicles – simple to operate and maintain,’ said Dan Cummins, a Zap! dealer in the United States who will also assist with parts and warrantee issues that may arise in Cayman.

Another advantage of the electrically powered vehicle is that it consumes no power when stuck in a traffic jam, unlike regular cars which continue burning fuel as long as the engine is running.

The vehicle is also very quiet when compared to many traditional vehicles.

New 2009 models will be available for around $15,000, with pre-owned vehicles available for between $10,000 and $13,000.

Should the Cayman Islands government institute incentives for photovoltaic systems, the vehicles equipped with solar panels may even experience a reduction in price in the future.

Of course, having the vehicle licensed as a motorcycle creates a number of interesting problems. In order to operate one, a driver would need a Group 1 or Group 1A licence as required for motorcycles and would not be able to drive one with a standard motor vehicle licence.

The same helmet laws that apply to motorcycles also apply to these vehicles, according to Mr. Quinland.

However, under the Traffic Law, helmet use is not compulsory for motorcycles, which means that those driving a Xebra will not need to worry about helmet room in the vehicle just yet.

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