ZENN Owner Experience
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By Tim U
Great Falls, MT
"Electric Blue" 2007 2.22LX
18hp HPGC AC motor Curtis 1238 controller AC battery warmers AC interior heater Alpine sound system
Fansite - www.ElectricCityRides.com
It has now been a month since my ZENN was delivered, and I have driven it approximately 200 miles around the city of Great Falls. I guess it is time for another update on my impressions.
I am frankly amazed at how fast the ZENN has become just another car in my stable. The limitations inherent in an electric a vehicle at this time in history simply do not matter, at least in this small city. I have stopped worrying at all about the car's ability to get me to and from the places I want to go. When I have something to do it is simply easier to jump in the Zenn and, as they say "Git-`Er- Done".
The technological limitations of an electric car are two; limited range and limited speed. The first of these is rendered moot because I live in a city that is approximately 5 miles across. Therefore, the 25-30 mile range available on the Zenn is more than adequate to run quite a few errands all over this town. If the truth be told, constantly looking at the "fuel" gauge became boring. There was just and nothing that I wanted to do that exhausted the car's range. People living in larger cities may be concerned somewhat more about the limited range, but I am willing to bet that the off quoted statistics that most people commute less than 20 miles is, in fact, accurate. This being the case, a Zenn would provide a perfectly acceptable second car for almost anyone.
The issue of reduced battery output at low temperatures is a serious one, but it is not really an issue with the ZENN as much as it is an issue of current battery technology. I found my range reduced by around 50% if the temp gets into the low teens or below, but I also had no trouble getting to and from work at 5 below. The use of AC powered battery warmers just about cures the problem. As soon as I installed the warmers, my apparent range (as judged by the behavior of the "fuel" gauge, not exhaustive testing) went WAY up. I've gone 13 miles and had 4 bars left on the gauge when starting off with warm batteries – so I'd bet I'd get at least 30 miles on a charge if I ran it down to 1 blinking bar on warm batteries.
The legal limits imposed on the speed a Zenn is allowed to go presents something more of a problem, but still a small one. Fortunately, I live in Montana which was the first state to allow electric vehicles like the Zenn to exceed 25 miles an hour. The 35 mph limitation in Montana renders the speed issue almost, but not quite, moot as well. There are very few areas of road in this town that are posted for speed limits greater than 45 miles an hour, the highest posted limit under which a medium speed electric vehicle is allowed to operate on Montana roads. Generally, the top speed limit around town is 35 mph which allows me to keep up with the natural flow of traffic reasonably well. True, lots of folks will exceed the posted speed limit, but by simply staying in the right hand lane I have stayed out of their way and still have not been flipped off or honked at yet. What actually happens is that those folks who do accelerate from one stoplight to the next rarely make any better time then I do in the Zenn. Almost always, I catch up to them at the next light. In only one or two cases have I noticed someone deliberately trying to out accelerate me from the stoplight (and I would never deliberately punch it - honest!).
There are only two places that I have found that I wished I had greater speed. There is a bridge over the Missouri River on the east side of Great Falls that is posted for 45 mph, but often becomes something of a raceway. It is also quite heavily traveled, and one of the few places in town where it is sometimes difficult to make a lane change. Of course, it would also be a place where I frequently need to make a left turn, and am forced to get into the left lane some distance before the turn. It would be very nice to have an extra 10 mph capability at that point. Still, I have had no problems so far.
The other place where some additional speed would be nice also has to do with changing lanes. Sometimes, the most effective method of making a lane change is to speed up and "dart" into an open spot slightly ahead of you. This is difficult if you are limited to 35 mph. Therefore, the legally limited speed of the Zenn requires just a bit of thought about changing lanes - and that only when traffic is heavy (not all that common in Great Falls).
If the ZENN could make 45 mph, it would be a nearly perfect small- town vehicle. As it is, it has really surprised me with how capable it is. This thing is a real car, and it can do the vast majority of things we ask real cars to do.
With regard to all the other things that go into making up a real car, the ZENN has exceeded all my expectations. Until you've driven it for a while, you don't appreciate just how much room there actually is inside what looks from the outside to be a very small car. I've got 6" of headroom and far more legroom that I can use (I'm 5'10"). The cargo space is actually quite huge. It would be difficult to exceed it in normal use. The seats are quite comfortable, the heater works fine, and the windshield wipers serve nicely. Seriously, I've had no complaints about ANYTHING in the car.
Some of the things I have especially enjoyed are the tight turning radius and ease of parking inherent in the ZENN. Both my other rides are trucks and one is an F350 crewcab with a long box. Even though the Ford's turning radius is MUCH tighter than the smaller GMC I drove previously, it is still a bit difficult to park and flipping a U-turn on a residential street is out of the question. The ZENN, on the other hand, can easily go and park anywhere. And I never have to squeeze out between vehicles – the ZENN is so narrow that there is always room to enter and exit easily.
Like others considering a ZENN, at first I worried that I would find the car's limitations to be such as to preclude its use as a general purpose vehicle. Those worries were completely resolved by driving the car for a month. Within my small city, the ZENN imposes no limits at all. On the contrary, it allows some freedoms (such as easy parking) that I hadn't really expected. I've rapidly found it to be the vehicle I first turn to when needing to get somewhere – despite having 4 other vehicles in the driveway to choose from.
I know it sounds corny, but each time I drive the ZENN I get a feeling of satisfaction in doing something that represents an elegant solution to my around-town transportation needs. I am not a tree- hugging, Green Party, ultra eco-freak, convinced that the internal combustion engine is evil incarnate. Instead, I'm something of a technology junkie and much of my attraction to electric cars in general and the ZENN in particular arises out of my fascination with finding such elegant technical solutions to the challenges I run into just trying to live on this planet. It's a great deal of fun to try out different ideas and see how close you can come to solving a problem in a maximally efficient way. For me, the ZENN is such an elegant solution. It does the job on schedule, under budget, and with technical excellence. And it's just a bunch of fun to drive, too!
The ZENN is a much more capable vehicle than it might at first seem. If you are thinking of buying one, just do it. You won't be sorry!