click above image for a high-resolution gallery of the Columbia Mega
Right now, there are two types of electric passenger cars: low speed half-cars that appeal only to a small subset of drivers (see: Miles EV's current lineup, E-Z-Go golf carts, etc.) and highway speed vehicles that are either way too expensive (Tesla) or just being tested by the automakers (MINI E, smart ed, iMiEV). The Medium Speed Vehicle Coalition is pushing for a new, third class: EVs that can go up to 35 mph and have some - but not all - of the safety equipment that "real" cars have. Airbags and crash testing are a good idea, but does a car that can't go faster than 35 mph and would be restricted to streets with speed limits of 35 or slower need electronic stability control? Rick Sikes, Fleet Manager for the City of Santa Monica, told AutoblogGreen that ESC is expensive to add to a vehicle, a cost that most electric car start-ups can't afford.
So, what's the big deal with 35 mph? Currently, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) are electronically-limited to 25 mph and can drive on streets with posted speed limits of up to 35 mph. But, when drivers are on a 35 mph street and someone in front of them is going 25, Sikes said, it's common for them to act somewhat reckless in order to pass. On the other hand, when traffic is going 35 in a 35 zone, everyone's pretty much OK with the situation.
The other main benefit, of course, is that electric cars that can go 35 mph exist today (most NEVs have software that limits their top speed - the motor and batteries could handle the extra 10 mph or, at the most, would need just a bit of tweaking to get to 35) and at reasonable prices. Some of these EVs would need to be buffed up from their current NEV status by adding airbags and whatnot, but if the MSVC gets its wish and the laws are changed, then perhaps EVs like the Columbia Mega (above) that's on display here at the EDTA show could one day be more than a zero-emission curiosity.