Electric car buzzes city staffers around town

MARYSVILLE Last year, city Fleet and Facilities Manager Mike Shepard began looking at replacing an aging van that was part of the city's service fleet.

He said the van primarily was used for interdepartmental mail runs or short trips between the public works building on Columbia Avenue and City Hall on State Avenue.

"We were looking at a sedan and I thought maybe this is a golden opportunity to buy an electric car," Shepard said.

After a little research, he began leaning increasingly in that direction for all the expected reasons, from savings on gas to being nicer to the environment.

With final approval from City Council, the city of Marysville purchased its first electric car, a 2008 GEM e4, which arrived in the city in early April.

With a total price tag of $16,311, Shepard said the car even saved the city money in terms of initial costs. Maintenance costs also should prove cheaper.

"It never needs an oil change," Shepard said.

The car strictly is used for quick runs around the city and never leaves the city. The fully electronic, seven horse power motor is governed to travel no more than 25 mph. With a full charge, the car will travel 35 miles before running out of juice. However, Shepard said the car is constantly plugged in when not in use, so he doesn't see it conking out on the road somewhere.

Tonya Miranda is a business office supervisor in the public works building and one of those who uses the car around town on a regular basis.

"A few of us are very fond of it," Miranda said, adding the small car does get a few glances as it tools around Marysville.

"You have to be ready to wave to the crowd as you're driving it," she said.

Miranda also stated the two-door car seats four people very comfortably. It also has, quite conveniently, four cup holders, Shepard pointed out. Still, cup holders aside, the small car does not have a lot of extras and controls differ in some ways from a more traditional vehicle.

The car's drive controls are far more simplified than in a traditional car. A sliding switch on the side of the steering column offers three choices: "high," "low" and "reverse."

Finally, the car features no air conditioning, unless you count the two fans mounted on either side of the large, but Spartan dashboard. The car does have a defroster that also can function as a heater, with the fans spreading the warmth.

Six batteries under the back seat hold the car's electrical charge. Plugging the car in and recharging it requires only a normal 120-volt electrical line, though the line does have to be dedicated. If the car senses any power drain from another source, it automatically stops recharging, Shepard said. He added the city somewhat lucked out in finding a dedicated line right outside the back door of the public works building.

A ride in the car is smooth, and Shepard bragged about disc breaks and tight cornering.

While he is very happy with the GEM, Shepard said purchasing additional models for the city probably isn't practical because of the relatively slow speed and limitations on trip distance. Still, he does hope the city looks to buying hybrids as normal fleet car replacement occurs.

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