Pint-Size Cars Sip Energy

  • Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (N.E.V.'s) can go up to 25 mph. The City of Chicago would like to see more people using them for short-distance errands. (Photo by Mike Rhee)

Hybrid cars are all the rage nowadays.

But Mike Rhee reports another car could take the concept of green-friendly vehicles a step farther:


Hybrid cars are all the rage nowadays.

But Mike Rhee reports another car could take the concept of green-friendly vehicles a step farther:

These new types of cars are called neighborhood electric vehicles, or N-E-V’s for short.

Now, to me, they look like souped-up golf carts.

But don’t say that to Matt Stewart.

“It gives them a bad name.”

Stewart is the senior automotive equipment analyst, kind of like the car expert, for the City of Chicago.

It owns four of these small electric vehicles.

And Stewart doesn’t like comparing them to golf carts because he says N-E-V’s are much more sophisticated.

“They can go faster than golf carts, I think golf carts are allowed to go up to just under 20 mph, these go between 20-25 is the top speed. They have safety glass windshields, they have mirrors, they have turn signals, brake lights, headlights, and then they have automotive certified safety belts.”

OK, so N-E-V’s are not golf carts–They’re road ready.

And fully electric.

The vehicles are charged with just a regular wall plug and can go up to 40 miles on a single charge.

And this year, Chicago’s approved these vehicles to drive around nearly everywhere in the city.

“Hi, Garrick.”

“How you doin’?”

Garrick Mueller is a truck driver for the city of Chicago.

We’re standing in this huge warehouse that’s filled with fire engines, garbage trucks, and of course, some N-E-V’s.

Mueller says he uses this little vehicle all the time to move around the warehouse.

We buckle in.

“We’re all set, you ready?”



“This is wild.”

“Isn’t it? It’s pretty neat.”

“OK, so we’re about to go on a regular street.”

“Yeah, Elston Avenue, we’re going to make a right. People look at you, they’re like, what is that? See right there– the cops looking at us? They’re like, ‘What is that.’ It’s like when you see a new car on the street you’re like, ‘Wow, look at that.'”

“Now, the ordinance they passed would allow everyday people like you and me have one of these at home. What do you think about being able to drive this around your neighborhood?”

“You know, I like it. I would definitely drive one of these. I mean, the doors come off in the summer, if you had kids and stuff, you could go to the ice cream parlor, have them seat-belted in and go right to the ice cream, you know, it’s nice.”

“That’s actually the goal.”

That’s Eileen Joyce.

She’s assistant commissioner of Chicago’s vehicle fleet.

Right now, Joyce says the city’s testing out the N-E-V’s for its lighter travel needs.

Say a worker needs to drop off a box of pamphlets at a concert.Or a few employees need to drive downtown for a meeting.

Granted, those kinds of trips are the minority compared to most of the city’s work with large vehicles like garbage trucks and snow plows.

But Joyce says the city wants to show residents how useful these vehicles can be, and, if they catch on, she says it could make a big impact on reducing pollution here.

She imagines N-E-V’s parked in driveways and garages everywhere.

“Plug it in overnight, go and run errands, go to the grocery store, the library, Blockbuster, return something, and come back and plug it in without using any fuel or emitting any emissions into the air.”

Joyce says 39 states permit these smaller vehicles to be used in some form or other.

Some businesses have already started using N-E-V’s for things like food and pizza delivery.

So, you may not have seen one yet, but it probably won’t be long before you do.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mike Rhee.

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