2001 GEM

 The GEM (Global Electric Motorcars, LLC) sold by Diamler-Chrysler. The Davis city fleet of 27 GEMs was acquired from a donation program between Daimler-Chrysler and the state of California, and from a grant program with the National Parks Service.

Any Davis resident can sign up on a waiting list to borrow one of three city loaner vehicles for nine days. I was on the list for six months before my name came up, so the program is quite popular! These vehicles lack doors and climate control, so they're great fun in mild weather, but can't be comfortably used in cold, windy or rainy conditions. The GEM is literally a street-legal golf cart, and even maintains a "turf mode" to reduce torque and top speed for driving on the links. The vehicle has a limited top speed of 25mph - even down-hill. Looks, drives and feels like a golf cart.

While I think that these NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) have a great place in gated and/or retirement communities, I'm skeptical about their effectiveness out on real roads with real cars and real speeds.  I feel safer riding my bicycle where I have more control, (easier maneuvering, better acceleration, better brakes) and can stay out of traffic when I cannot keep up. 25mph is typically too slow even for streets marked with that limit. And on a 35mph road, you become a moving roadblock that can tick off other drivers. My fear is that the stereotyping of EVs as slow and unsafe is propagated by vehicles like this. Driving through a busy intersection without even the minimal protection of doors is a bit harrowing at first. I admit that I soon got used to it, but am still not fond of the lack of safety features beyond seatbelts. I also have concerns that a vehicle like this will replace walking and bicycle riding instead of replacing gasoline vehicle miles as intended. In my experience, it could replace 5% of my full-size vehicle driving, 50% of my bicycling and 100% of my walking.

Acceleration up to top speed is quite perky on the level. The steering is vague and twitchy (same as a golf cart) and the brakes are barely up to the task. I typically drove with zero or 100% throttle.  Not much use for the in between speeds!  The engagement of both forward and reverse is a jerky experience - quite difficult to modulate.

In the end though - this was Kyra's favorite vehicle she's ever been in. Bar none. My favorite part about the vehicle is the orange strobe on the roof that the city added.  :)

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