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2008 ZENN First Impressions

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Michel Deslauriers
A breath of fresh air
Young and old, I know plenty of people who can't live without a car. But the price of gas is getting so high, that going to the corner store for a quart of milk costs more than the quart itself.

At the same time, I can't help but feel that I'm not doing enough for the future of my children. It's especially the case since I met Vice-President of Production Gilles Allard, head honcho at ZENN's St. Jérôme, Québec assembly plant that builds zero-emissions vehicles.

The company has been producing and distributing an electric car for a year now, and they are selling them in the United States as well as a few in British-Columbia. That's right; a Canadian company with management headquarters in Toronto and production in Québec, and virtually all their output is sent to the USA. But now, La Belle Province is regulating LSV (Low-Speed Vehicles) for limited use in select cities stating July 17th.

What is an LSV? It's basically a road vehicle that's limited to a top speed of 40 km/h, or 25 mph, like the ZENN. What exactly is a ZENN?

How a ZENN is born
The company buys unfinished bodies of the MC2, a small gas- or diesel-powered vehicle sold in Europe by a manufacturer simply called Minicar. The vehicles are shipped to ZENN's assembly plant without powertrains, and an electric motor is squeezed in the tiny engine bay. Six batteries are also placed under the cargo area floor.

Other modifications are performed while the cars and their batteries are fully-tested before being sent to their proud owners. The car is built on an aluminum space frame and all body panels are molded in ABS, a type of plastic resin. The car requires virtually no maintenance.

The 2-seater ZENN rides on a 2,080-mm wheelbase and is 3,068 millimetres long. Compared to a smart fortwo, it's longer but slightly narrower and lower, but offers more cargo space, 368 litres versus 340 for the smart; that's about the size of a Honda Civic's trunk.

Silent grocery getter
Driving the ZENN is a quite amusing. It speed up to 40 km/h in about 9 seconds and hits its electronic speed limiter, so merging in city traffic is not a big worry. Every state has its requirements for identifying LSVs on the road, and in Québec, every ZENN must have an orange triangle warning sticker as well as an indication of the car's maximum speed.

Michel Deslauriers
Michel Deslauriers
Automotive expert