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The Gleaner

Zap!(ed) - Electric car hits Henderson streets IMG_0035

By Frank Boyett

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Denny Branson has quietly declared his independence from the oil and gas industry.

The Branson Survey's company vehicle, however, is visually screaming it with a large red sign. "100 percent electric. Be part of the solution -- we are”

Branson bought the two-seat Zap! electric truck a couple of months ago from a dealer near Chicago, although the truck was manufactured in China. He suspects it's the first electric vehicle in this region in modern times.

"I love it, and I love the reaction I'm getting from people," he said. "Everywhere I go, people are thanking me for making a statement and letting them know what the possibilities are. They're thanking me for being willing to look stupid enough to ride in it. They're not saying it that way, though," he said with a chuckle.

"A lot more people would do a lot more if they knew how easy it was to be part of that solution."

And that's the whole point, he said: To raise the consciousness of other drivers so they can snip the umbilical cords that tie them to the gas pump.

The American automobile industry has the expertise and resources to build a viable and affordable electric car, he maintains.

"They just refuse to do it. If the American people show there is a demand for it, and enough people buy what's available and change our driving habits if we need to, I think that's the only way this country is going ... to finally wake up and stop being so dang gluttonous with its oil consumption."

Branson had planned to trade in his Jeep SUV, which is currently worth about $5,000, and buy a hybrid that would have cost about $30,000. Instead, he kept the Jeep for highway driving, spent $12,500 for the electric truck "and saved about 12 grand," he said.

"I'm using this for 90 percent of my driving and not paying a penny for gas. I've never run low on fuel. I drive it back and forth to work. That thing costs less than 2 cents a mile to operate."

 

With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, his statement probably makes most drivers salivate. But Branson warned an electric vehicle is not for everyone.

"It's got some down sides," he conceded. "If you're the kind of person who has to have luxury, it's not for you."

The truck has only three wheels, because the federal government considers it a motorcycle. The same exact model with four wheels is limited to a top speed of 25 mph; Branson's Zap! can hit 40 mph.

"The only way they can get the government to allow this truck to go over 25 mph is to get it classified as a motorcycle," he explained. "As a motorcycle, it doesn't have to have air bags or all the things the manufacturers claim make the price of (an electric car) be unaffordable.

"Another down side: No air conditioning. High electric consumption reduces your range and speed. It's got a heater in it, but that's mostly for the windshield's visibility."

And it's not exactly a tractor-trailer rig. The bed is mostly for show; it swings back to allow access to the seven golf cart batteries. Maximum carrying capacity is 300 pounds, which limits it to two relatively small people.

"Before I decided whether or not to buy it I practiced driving no more than 40 mph to see if my personality would acclimate itself to that truck," Branson said. "The first week was kind of hard. The second week it got easier and easier. It became a habit very quickly to run 40 mph in my Jeep."

Since 45 mph is the highest speed limit within the city limits, except for the U.S. 41 bypass, the Zap! works very well as a runabout. Branson said he even takes it to Evansville occasionally.

Branson said he hopes he can set an example for weaning people away from their addiction to fossil fuels. Citizens voting with their pocketbooks is "the only way the government is going to get out of bed with the automobile manufacturers and the oil and gas industry," he said. "We've known for many, many years that we're gluttonous. And what have we done about it? Nothing!"

 

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