What Is a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle?

What Is a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle?

Electric cars are all the rage, but few of us want to trade our powerful gasoline or diesel vehicles. Nor can most of us afford to buy one. However, battery-powered cars are nothing new. They have been around since the 1930s in the form of golf carts and senior transportation. These vehicles have remained on the links for most of that time. Until now! They are beginning to emerge in cities, parks, subdivisions and other urban settings. And they’re known across the country as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). So, what is a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle?

History of the NEV

The history of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles parallels that of golf carts in general. The use of electric cars began in Los Angeles. Their initial use was to transport elderly and disabled people to the grocery store.  These early examples of electric vehicles were used for years. But then J.K. Wadley of Arkansas had the bright idea of buying one for use on the golf course. At the same time, electric golf carts were being independently invented in Florida by Lyman Beecher.

In the 1950s, the public use of electric cars all but disappeared. But they quickly took over golf courses around the world. Golfers with the money bought them for personal use. And country clubs rented them out by the day to those who couldn’t afford carts or have a place to keep them.

The state of electric cars remained unchanged for more than 20 years. But in the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturers began to market them to communities. Associations and residents soon realised their potential as convenient and affordable means of local transportation. Golf cart communities soon started to emerge in coastal areas and on islands with limited traffic. These communities can now be found in states such as Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

The growing demand for urban golf carts prompted manufacturers to develop NEVs made for streets, trails and off-road activities rather than for grassy golf courses. Hundreds of models are available from dozens of manufacturers, and they range in price from $2,000 to $30,000.

Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Laws and Regulations

To be regarded as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, the vehicle must be battery-powered and designed to carry at least two passengers. It must weigh less than 3,000 pounds and have a maximum speed of 25 mph.

25 mph is the maximum allowable speed to be federally classified as a low-speed vehicle. Low-speed vehicles are regulated differently from other motorized vehicles, such as cars and trucks. In addition to the federal regulations, which mostly concern safety features such as headlights, seat belts, windshields and turn signals, drivers of NEVs must abide by state laws and local regulations.

Most states that have regulated NEVs allow them to operate on secondary streets with low-speed limits, usually 35 mph. Other laws vary by state and community. For example, South Carolina requires that individuals be at least 16 years of age and possess a valid driver’s license, while Florida only requires drivers to be 14 years of age or older. Also, some states, such as New York, need NEVs to be equipped with seat belts or three-point restraints, windshield wipers, a speedometer and rear lights. In many states, NEVs must also be titled and registered like traditional motor vehicles.

NEV Golf Cart Basics

NEVs are environmentally friendly and produce no greenhouse gasses because they operate on rechargeable batteries. The California Air Resources Board classifies them as zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The average distance you can drive on one charge is 30 miles. But some models can go much further. Most manufacturers limit vehicle speeds to 25 mph. However, with some slight modifications, they can reach 45 mph.

Most NEVs seat two to four people and have additional space available for cargo. But some models can carry six passengers. The batteries used by these vehicles are primarily of the deep-cycle lead-acid variety to help keep costs down. But newer versions are starting to employ costlier lithium ion and metal hydride batteries. Most of these batteries can charge through standard 110-volt outlets, but some require 220 volts, which reduces the eight-hour charging time by half.

The three types of lead-acid batteries most commonly used in NEVs are:

  • Flooded – A traditional lead-acid battery with submerged plates in an electrolyte solution.
  • Gel – The electrolyte is a gel and the battery is sealed to prevent evaporation.
  • Absorbed glass mat (AGM) – AGM batteries contain a material similar to fiberglass to hold the electrolyte in place.

When it comes to price, NEVs cost less than most traditional cars do, and they are less expensive to operate. Depending on the cost of electricity, you will pay $0.01 to $0.03 for every mile the NEV travels. Additionally, federal and state tax credits may be available to offset the costs.

The Great NEV Boom

In 2004 NEVs existed only in a few coastal communities. Back then, only about 56,000 were in use in the United States. Two years later, that number jumped to 76,000. Estimates show that more than 478,000 were in use around the world in 2011. According to conservative predictions, the number of NEVs on the road will reach 695,000 by 2017. By 2018 the most significant markets will be China, the U.S., and France.

As expected, annual sales of NEVs are also increasing. In 2012, more than 40,000 new NEVs sold around the world. About 18,000 sold in the U.S. In 2017, worldwide sales will jump to 55,000, and U.S. sales will top 25,000. The annual growth rate of NEVs is 6.6 per cent, which is double that of light-duty vehicles.

NEV use is not only growing in the consumer sector but also in the commercial, industrial and military sectors. Companies with large buildings or warehouses employ them to transport executives, VIPs and workers from one end to the other.  In 2009, the U.S. Army announced that it would be leasing 4,000 NEVs to carry personnel throughout Army bases, for security patrols and deliveries.

Buying a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle

Buying a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle should be exciting. However, it’s wise to exercise some caution when first entering the market. As long as you stick with a trusted manufacturer, such as GEM, ELI Electric or E-Z-GO, it is hard to go wrong. Once you have narrowed your options, you can then shop with confidence based on personal preference.

This entry was posted in Personal Transportation.