Monday, December 29, 2008

Seeing Red, Instead Of Green

I support 99% of all "green" initiatives, but one glaring exception is the electric-powered ZENN car. I first heard of the Quebec manufactured operation on the CBC, and I couldn't understand why a domestic automaker faced so many roadblocks getting its environmentally friendly product onto the streets. The big automakers conspiring to keep the little car that could down, bureaucracy getting in the way of new technology, it all just seemed wrong, wrong, wrong. What the CBC report failed to mention, was a simple fact that completely explained the hesitations- this ZENN car is the equivalent of unleashing a squadron of 80 year old, half blind drivers on our roads. The prospects of a car, with a MAXIMUM speed of 40km, touring our roads is a stupid idea, for a myriad of reasons. I would favor government investment, to improve the technology, but until this ZENN car literally "gets up to speed", the downside outweighs any perceived benefit.

An article today on some possible plans for the ZENN in Ontario, speed and safety the chief concerns:
Help is on the way for struggling automakers in Ontario.

No -- not those struggling automakers from Detroit with their smoggy SUVs and corporate jets -- but Canada's builders of low-speed electric vehicles (LSVs), the perky but unproven technology that could jumpstart the green economy.

"LSVs are a new kind of vehicle and it will take a new set of standards to allow them to be safely driven on Ontario roads," Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said after releasing a National Research Council study on the vehicles' safety earlier this month.

"Based on the study results -- and after consulting with manufacturers, municipalities and stakeholders -- we plan to announce LSV safety standards and the rules of the road for LSVs this winter."

LSVs are powered by electric motors and rechargeable batteries and reach a top speed of 40 km/h.

They are currently allowed only in parks, some university campuses and gated communities but a recent pilot project in Quebec is unleashing them on public roadways, provided they have additional safety features.

I don't view the above as "help", in fact it's a hinderance to productivity and challenges common sense. I used the aging senior analogy, not to be cruel, but because we've all seen the parades of motorists following the little old lady, who's travelling well below the speed limit. If there is a more dangerous circumstance on our roads, than watching driver after driver take chances trying to get around what amounts to a moving obstacle, I haven't seen it. Oh sure, one could argue, everyone should just slow down, what's the big hurry? That logic is a fine ideal, but it has no relationship to the realities of busy life, nor does it acknowledge driving habits, which aren't about to change, because some subpar car is introduced. That's right, "subpar", this ZENN car (apparently there is another generation on the way, with better performance) simply doesn't cut it, based on standards established for our roads. I'd rather focus on environmental energies on technologies which actually achieve performance requirements, the new Volt comes to mind (top speed above anything required, based on road limits).

I sense a great deal of pressure to get the ZENN car on the road, a combination of environmental want and domestic production. I think it wrong, to treat any "green" technology as an absolute, because this ZENN car is a liability, it's performance so woeful, to be almost a joke. This ZENN car will kill people, one because it's safety performance is wanting, two because it's speed is a complete hazard. Maximum speed of 40km, what happens when you have a slight head wind for the light vehicle, dare to dream 35km? Good grief, sounds like a nightmare from here. The argument of "selected" roads the great appeaser, but all that tells me is this car is a practical dud at the moment. Let's get the ZENN up to snuff first, before we subject the vast majority of drivers to this melon. I don't see green, I see red.


Note the side view impact angle, at a lowly 40km. Reminds me of a boot and a pop can:

Quality. Safe. Peppy. This is the 21st century?


Anonymous said...

I drive a Matrix and pretty much $hit my pants whenever a monster GM truck is tail gating me or sitting beside me at a red light.

I can't imagine feeling safe in any of these electric cars.

Steve V said...


The "smart car" actually has a pretty good safety rating, and many of these other one's coming online are no concern at all, safety wise. I love the technology, but it has to meet basic requirements, otherwise it's not worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Barry Taylor of 102.1 radio in Toronto is on a crusade to bring the Zenn car to Ontario roads, regardless of any safety concerns. This crazy radio host has whipped his listeners into such a frenzy that they are on a campaign writing and calling every MPPs constituency office in Ontario demanding that the Minister of Transportation release these death traps onto Ontario roads at the earliest possible moment. Someone needs to start a calling and letter writing campaign to Barry Taylor (and his other sponsors) to oppose his irresponsible behavior.

bigcitylib said...

They seem to be doing okay in Que.

Obviously, something like this wouldn't work on the 401, but in downtown TO I don't know that I've seen anyone going over 40 kph.

Now, why would you need a vehicle like this downtown when there are so many other alternatives? I don't know, but that isn't a safety issue.

Steve V said...


Saying it's fine downtown, really means it isn't fine anywhere else. If it's only credible in the downtown core, then I would ask too, why on earth would you need one, with all the other transit options available? It just seems like a feeble little car at the moment, so I'd rather focus on more viable options, which are clearly available.

Jennifer Smith said...

You're missing several points here:

1) The 40 km/h limit isn't a limitation of the design - it's a limitation of the law. The ZENN is perfectly capable of travelling 50 or 60 km/hour (although not highway speed), but according to the law, any vehicle designated as an LSV has to have a speed limiter that will prevent it from going faster than 40km/h. Talk to Bradley.

2) In addition to urban use, the ZENN is perfect as a second car for people in the suburbs or small towns where there is little or no viable local transit and where the vast majority of car trips are still made on roads with speed limits under 50 km/h. I live in Milton, and I can't think of anywhere in town where the speed would be a problem. I'd buy one in a second.

3) If you seriously think that the differential between 40 and 50 km/h is likely to drive you into a foaming rage, then you make have anger management issues.

4) The LSV version of the ZENN is a prelude to a full-speed version due to be released next year that uses some pretty extraordinary, hyper-capacitor-based energy storage technology. This is going to change everything, and will turn the Volt into a dinosaur before the first one leaves the plant.

The most exciting thing for me is the potential. Imagine Ontario becoming the electric car capital of the world, with multiple Canadian-owned companies producing not only cars and parts, but also developing and producing the cutting-edge technology that would run them and any number of other applications, and supplying all that to the world while Detroit sinks into the asphalt.

That's what's at stake here. This is potentially the Avro Arrow of our generation - which, as you'll recall, didn't go so fast at first either. I'd really rather we didn't kill this one in the cradle.

Rural Meets City said...

Here, here Jennifer Smith! My partner and I got 50 shares in the ZENN company for Christmas - an investment that we believe is part of building green jobs in Canada. We're ecstatic about the model to be released next year ;o)

Steve V said...

Okay, when the model is released next year, and it meets requirements, then let's have this discussion. As someone who worked in Milton, I take your comment with a grain of salt, because I've seen the speeds people drive. It's a dud right now, if they improve, I'm completely on board.

Steve V said...


So, it's Bradley's fault that the car doesn't go faster, because it's a death trap on wheels? Yes, let's just let the tin can on the road, and when people die, you can blame Bradley.

Steve V said...

I have an idea. Jennifer, let's do an experiment. Get in your car and drive around Milton at 40km. Do it for about half an hour, then come back here and tell me what happened.

Steve V said...

The Zenn at a meagre 40km. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Whats with the crusade?
If you dont like the car then dont buy one. I never see any value in trying to take anouthers choice away. I do agree that 40km/h is a little slow and a car that does 50 would be better but the governement set the bar that low not the manufacturer.

Steve V said...

Exactly, what's with the crusade ;) Let the technology develop, then it's viable, until then it shouldn't be on the table.

Jennifer Smith said...

I actually DID try driving around Milton at 40 one day to see what would happen, and there was no problem. The only place where people passed me was on Ontario St., which is a 4-lane road where it's easy enough to pass safely anyway. Same goes for Main St. east of Ontario.

The worst was on my own street - Commercial - which has a 40 km/h school zone that is universally ignored. So there, driving 40 had exactly the same result as every other day when I observe the speed limit: assholes driving right up my bumper. Screw 'em.

As for that crash test video, how about showing a crash test of a motorcycle at speed into a brick wall? The fact is, low-speed microcars are used all over Europe, and the ZENN itself has been sold in most U.S. states for a couple of years now, and safety doesn't seem to have been a problem.

So I'm wondering the same thing as Anon, Steve - why the crusade? I want one of these things because they suit my driving needs perfectly, they're cheap to buy and maintain, they're Canadian, and they could help save the planet - not to mention our manufacturing industry.

For me, and for thousands more like me, this car is perfectly viable even before the next generation comes out. So why are you trying so hard to talk us out of it?

Steve V said...


And, how many have they sold in America? Exactly.

You can't just fluff off that video, it's appalling- looks like a pop can under a boot. I'm glad we have standards, safety is important, good forbid someone should put a child in the death trap. And, that's just 40km, imagine what happens when someone driving 60km hits the pop can.

Let's keep it real, nobody drives the speed limit in town, as you just admitted with the "screw em" comment. 60km is the norm in a 50 zone, police don't even bat an eye with that speed, it's the excepted norm. To have to endure some clown tooting around at 40km, with the "screw em" attitude, well... The only reason people didn't pass you, is because they couldn't, just follow the parade.

I'm not trying to talk anybody out of anything, I just don't want a subpar tin can on the road with me, and I want my government to see the folly. Much rather see a practical, real alternative, that is safe and has capacity. The Zenn is the answer to nothing, in it's current configuration, there are other options coming on stream that don't require changing driving habits to accomodate the three toed sloth of automobiles. Like I said earlier, let's see if the next generation comes about, seems from my reading that is entirely uncertain at this point, but if it does, I'll change my tune.

Steve V said...

I'm just curious too, why it's a crusade for pointing out the failings of this "car", but it's environmentally noble to pump it? It's just my opinion, which last time I checked I'm entitled too.

Anonymous said...

Steve, usually I find your blog posts to be engaging, and well reasoned, but in this case only the former.

You could replace ZENN with "bicycle" in most of your sentences, and you'd see that it's the rant of an old fogy with road rage issues. The ZENN is faster than most cyclists, and is likely safer than motorbikes. Ideally it would have a top speed of 100km/h, but no one is hurt in reality by a top speed of 60km/h.

Steve V said...


Are you for real? Then let it drive in the bike lane or on the side, we're talking about traffic, so replace what exactly? Bad analogy. And, I don't get the 60km line, did you look at the video, it's stunning (people DIE a 60km). The reason the government won't allow it too go faster, it isn't safe. Period.

In a world of efficiency, people actually endorse slowing down the whole world, when we don't have too, there are other alternatives available that don't require changing habits.

I don't get this "road rage" argument, it seems people are being a touch too purist in their environmentalism, while all I'm doing is being practical. Car's a dud, improve it, or leave it on the drawing board.

Steve V said...

Oh, and when the Chinese start flooding the market with their cheap cars, suspect on safety, don't any of you Zenn apologists raise your hands, because it's the same argument, just happens were talking domestic crap here.

Again, look at the side view of the impact, you literally see the entire car buckle, like it's made of aluminum foil. It's THAT bad. Come on, is this the best "Canada" has to offer to to the new world order?

Saskboy said...

I didn't say it's perfect. The bottom line is that the video shows they need to improve the safety, but it's no less safe than a bike in a downtown situation. A cyclist is not going to have any crumple zone at all, and isn't going to be driving more than 40km/h anyway. You can't expect magic when you crash something massive into a small, lightweight vehicle. I do hope they do better than what the video shows the current situation as, but perhaps you should compare it to someone on a bike, or motorcycle, instead of a Vibe or Camry?

What alternatives currently available would you like to see? I'd like drivers to slow down and let small vehicles like bikes have the lane that is legally theirs. Your position seems to step up the anti-bike mantra to include even small cars.

Steve V said...

I support bike lanes and the right of cyclists, period. I think you are comparing apples and oranges, this is a vehicle which needs to use the car lane exclusively, not on the side or temporarily there for turns.

All I'm saying here, and it seems to be confused with other initiatives, just because something is green doesn't mean it's progress. I think there is a lot of pressure to get this car on the road, because people see it as an environmental solution. However, when you actually break it down, this car is inferior on many levels, until it improves, let's hold off, under the guise of environmental purity. Besides, from what I've read, the technology needed to make this car truly road worthy is American, in a collaborative effort, and the owner says his ultimate goal is too sell the technology to a big automaker, so maybe we need to wait until that occurs and we get a proper product.

Why I hate this car? The way in which it was first presented in the media, that got everybody excited and demanding the government's lift their opposition. I bought in too, then I started doing some research and it all started to make sense, as a matter of fact I agreed with the hesitations.

This isn't about road rage, or bicycles, it's about endorsing something which isn't up to snuff. Everybody knows that 60km is the norm in a 50km zone, it won't change and that's a reasonable speed. Until this car can reach that speed safely, I don't endorse slowing down traffic so a few people can feel good about themselves. It's not a functional option in my mind at the moment, it's a step backward on some levels. Improve the product, I'm on board completely, then it makes sense, for all the right reasons.

Anyways, it's just my opinion, others are free to disagree.