What’s the Real Story with NEVs? No Great Success After Many Years.


Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) have been around since Bombardier tried to market one in the mid-1990s, and even earlier if you include electric cars of the 1970s like the CitiCar and Elcar. The Detroit Electric, the Baker Electric, and other electric cars driven by fashionable ladies in the early part of early 20th century were also really low-speed NEVs .
Since then many other NEVs have appeared like the CT&T, The Kurrent, ZENN, REVA, and ZAP XEBRA, all of which have been sold in small numbers. Only the GEM, at one time part of Chrysler, has sold in any significant numbers. Conclusion: NEVs have found a small measure of use with consumers and have fared a bit better with fleets, but overall have been a failure, especially in one of their primary target markets – gated communities.
In contrast, ordinary golf cars used as NEVs have been very successful in many gated communities. For example, in the age 55+ community in which one of our Green Car editors lives, about 60 percent of the households have a golf car, with many of these replacing a second car. In the case of some very senior citizens it is their only means of transportation. For full dsclosure, many of these are driven to, from, and on the two golf courses in this community. Most all are driven around this large community’s roadways and many that are street legal are driven to nearby shopping centers. Conclusion: golf cars used as NEVs are a success in gated communities.
The main reason for this contradiction is a simple question: “Why buy a NEV for $15,000 or more when a $5,000 golf car will do?” For about $500 it’s possible to make a golf car street legal and license it through the Department of Motor Vehicles, allowing it to be legally driven in most states on roads with speeds of less than 35 mph. When traveling only short distances, mostly in residential environments with lots of starts and stops, the difference in trip times is really only a few minutes.
In most cases the range of a NEV or golf car is not limited by battery capacity. Rather, it is limited because many destinations are out of range, since traveling over roads with posted speed limits no greater than 35 mph are required to get there. Many public roadways have higher speed limits and the use of NEVs or golf cars on these roads is illegal.
While a true NEV might provide greater weather protection in northern climates, most are used in warmer sunbelt regions like Arizona, California, and Florida, the prime locales for retirement communities. Many golf cars are fitted with side curtains for wind protection and some have heaters and even air conditioning for all-weather comfort.
Another consideration is that there’s often little demand for new golf cars. Being simple and not subjected to demanding driving conditions, they last a long, long time with batteries being the only major maintenance item. Thus, golf cars go through several owners. Only the few who want the latest and greatest versions or those wanting the fanciest golf car at the country club and the bragging rights that go with this are apt to buy new ones. The difference in these high-end golf cars is in appearance and a few creature comforts. The basic technology for golf cars, however, is decades old with few innovations