Get Ready to Pimp Your Golf Carts, Chicago

For Chicago, going green may mean going electric.

Chicago drivers could get the green light to purchase electric vehicles and operate them on neighborhood side streets, under a so-called "green fleet" initiative unveiled by Mayor Daley Tuesday.

The Neighborhood Electric Vehicle -- sort of a golf cart on steroids -- gets a top speed of 35 miles per hour. And unlike the Toyota Prius and other hybrids, electric cars are low-speed vehicles with electric motors and re-chargeable batteries that operate only on electricity. The battery can be re-charged by plugging it into a standard household electrical socket. The electricity, costing about $180 per year, is considerably less than the cost of gasoline.

"Not only is the city looking for green initiatives or green ways of transporting people around the city of Chicago, but the general public is looking for ways to move from one end of the city to the other," said Eileen Joyce, the city's Assistant Commissioner of Fleet Management.

The NEVs showcased Tuesday are built in North Dakota by Global Electric Motors, a division of the Chrysler Corporation. They have cup holders and sunroofs, everything you might expect of a car, execept for the electric plug on the front end.

"You have mirrors, you have lights, you have a safety glass windshield. This is not just glass you'd find, or plexiglass like you'd find on a golf cart," said Senior Automotive Equipment Analyst Matt Stewart.

Under the hood sits an electric motor. The batteries are under the seat, good enough for short trips and errands.

One of the advantages of the NEVs are that they can be built to accomodate different uses. Some can be strictly people movers while others can be created to resemble a small pickup truck.

The city already owns four NEVs and is considering buying more if the ordinance is approved. For the public, they'll run about $12,000 and will require a city sticker and a special low-speed vehicle sticker, but under state law would not require license plates.

Neighborhood electric vehicles are already permitted in 30 of the 50 U.S. states. But, Chicago would be the first major municipality in Illinois to allow them on city streets, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

ComEd Goes Electric With Vehicle Fleet

The electric company has gone electric with its vehicle fleet.

ComEd last week received the first of 50 new Toyota Priuses, including 10 that had been converted to full electric plug-ins. They get re-charged using a standard 120-volt outlet. 

The plug-in conversions, to be used by ComEd meter readers, are expected to double the fuel-efficiency of the Prius from 47 to 96 miles per gallon. The company hopes not only to save on gas, but to prepare for a time when more electricity consumers are using plug-in cars. 

"Most major vehicle manufacturers have committed to bringing plug-in electric vehicles to the market in the next two to five years," said Rita Stols, ComEd vice president of strategic and support services. "By adding these vehicles now, we can study their performance and effects on the electric grid to prepare for wide-scale consumer adoption." 

The new cars could eventually be used as back-up power sources, said Terence Donnelly, ComEd's senior vice president of transmission and distribution. 

ComEd expects the new vehicles to save 6,500 gallons in gas a year -- or 60 metric tons of CO2. ComEd's "green fleet" also includes trucks that run on biodiesel fuel, flex-fuel vehicles that use 85 percent ethanol fuel, and Ford Escape hybrids.

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