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Can Neighborhood Electric Vehicles Work for Your Fleet?

With environmental benefits, low operating costs and flexibility of use, NEVs could offer a viable alternative in your fleet. Yet there is much to consider before taking the leap to fully battery-powered vehicles.

January 2008, by Chris Brown, Mike Guardabascio

From inner city deliveries andcross-campus transport to warehouse maintenance work and community patrols, neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) target the task with the right type of vehicle.

But with a built-in set of limitations, can they work for your fleet?

In the July/August 2007 issue of Business Fleet we reviewed the manufacturers currently offering neighborhood electric vehicles ("Thinking Electric?" pg 14). In this article, EV manufacturers, consultants and fleet users weigh in on the practical considerations of NEV operations.

The answers to these questions will help you decide.

The GEM model eS features six 12-volt flooded electrolyte batteries for a range of up to 30 miles on a charge and a 39" x 48" bed with a 330-pound cargo capacity.

What is an EV exactly, and what can I buy now?

An EV is a vehicle whose power comes from electricity supplied by a rechargeable battery. Almost all EVs currently available are classified as low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and are commonly termed neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

These vehicles are governed to a top speed of 25 mph and are legal on most U.S. streets with posted speed limits of up to 35 mph.

The latest NEVs hold a charge for 30 to 60 miles and run on an array of deep cycle lead-acid batteries, similar to car batteries. Most can be fully recharged with a standard 120-volt outlet in seven to 12 hours.

Why should I consider NEVs for my fleet?

Environmental benefits: NEVs are a way to reduce CO2 and other emissions and help the environment, as well as fulfill a company’s green mandate. NEVs emit about seven pounds of CO2 over 25 miles, assuming recharging from an electric power grid that burns only coal. A standard gas-powered vehicle emits 22 pounds of CO2 in similar circumstances.

- Inherently low operating costs: Fully recharging an NEV to run 30 to 60 miles costs less than $1. NEVs cost little to maintain relative to gas-powered vehicles.

- Flexibility of use: NEVs are allowed access inside buildings and on sidewalks where gas-powered vehicles can’t travel. They fit the vehicle to the task when a larger, gas-powered vehicle is overkill.

What types of NEVs are on the market?

Today’s NEVs have a range of customizable body types and engine capabilities. Passenger carrier models range from two to eight seats with storage upgrades. Industrial use models can be equipped with stake beds, enclosed cargo carriers, toolboxes and ladder racks.

To satisfy NHTSA safety criteria for street operation, NEVs are equipped with three-point seat belts, windshields and windshield wipers, running lights, headlights, brake lights, reflectors, rear view mirrors and turn signals.

Most NEVs are door-less, open-air affairs, though a market is being established for electric vehicles that more closely resemble cars for a wider variety of applications and all-season use, with fully enclosed aluminum alloy frames, sophisticated batteries, longer charges and features such as heat, air conditioning and audio systems.

Major manufacturers include Chrysler-owned Global Electric Motor Cars (GEM), ZAP, ZENN, Columbia ParCar, Dynasty Electric Car and Miles Electric Vehicles, to name a few.

How do I spec an NEV?

Spec’ing an NEV is similar in many ways to spec’ing a gas-powered vehicle, with a few unique parameters to consider:

- What’s the range of miles you’ll need to drive each day?

Battery packs can be configured for a certain range. Range can be extended if your routes have stops with outlets for an "opportunity charge." Recharge times can be shortened with an off-board fast charger.

- Can you perform functions off road such as shuttling people and cargo around an office park or campus, on sidewalks and in large buildings? Can you legally drive the NEV on your routes?

Remember, NEVs are only allowed on streets with 35 mph speed limits. NEVs that travel on public streets must be licensed and insured.

- What are your passenger and payload requirements? What is the driving terrain?

Payload and terrain have a significant impact on the range of NEVs. Typical payloads for NEV cargo haulers are up to 1,000 pounds. Some models, such as the Columbia BC5 Burden Carrier, can carry up to 5,200 pounds of cargo.

Range can vary by as much as 50 percent for a hilly terrain or if an NEV is heavily loaded with passengers or cargo. For these heavy burdens, look for batteries with a higher power density.

- What climate will the vehicle be operated in?

Cold climates negatively impact driving range. Businesses located in cold climates should plan to garage the vehicle in a heated area for charging. Many NEVs have options such as heaters, defrosters and doors (both hard and soft canvas).

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