We now live in a world where the electric car has gone mainstream. Unlike the small leased fleet of GM EV1s or the smattering of electric-converted Ford Rangers and Toyota RAV4s of the 1990s, people are now rushing out to buy Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts (the latter actually a gas-electric hybrid of sorts). Luxury and performance electrics like the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma sedan now exist and can command six-digit prices. The Tesla Model S just won Motor Trend Magazine's 2013 Car of the Year award, a first for an all-electric vehicle. But it's been a bumpy ride for electric cars, and the road to mainstream adoption is littered with small upstart companies that hoped to make a difference. In a blog that features all manner of cars from A to Z, it seems fitting to end the year with ZENN.
Today the ZENN Motor Company is trying to get other manufacturers to adopt its electric vehicle propulsion technology, and working with another company called EEStor to develop a replacement for batteries in electric cars.
The ZENN is a car that I expect to find only in communities that have progressive, environmentally friendly policies and low speed limits. Unsurprisingly, this car was found in Alameda, where the speed limit averages roughly the top speed of the ZENN. The overall design has a very utilitarian look about it. The curved cutout of the door matches the rear wheel arch, a holdover from the Microcar MC1 which had a shorter wheelbase than the MC2. The ZENN has no airbags and few niceties, though options such as a fabric sunroof, air conditioning and fake wood dash trim were available. This example even has alloy wheels and a roof rack that I suspect is aftermarket. All ZENNs came with the triangular caution sticker on the back to prevent other throttle jockeys from slamming into the back of the slow-moving little cars.
To date, this is one of the newest vehicles I've photographed as a street sighting feature, and I'm still left wondering how significant it is in the grand scheme of things. The ZENN is arguably outclassed by a Nissan Leaf in power, range, safety, interior space and even style, but the Leaf wasn't developed on a shoestring budget by an upstart company. And the ZENN is certainly more rare than most vehicles, electric or otherwise. It's an interesting footnote in automotive history.