Cover Story: Tomorrow's in-town car?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - No more gas guzzlers or big, clunky SUV's just to drive a couple of miles to work.  This is the LSV.  It's like the Smart Car and a golf cart made a baby.

It's an electric car you can afford for in-town driving.  Only problem is Congress won't make it street-legal on the major roads.

We took one of these LSV's for a ride and got more than a few stares.

You know, golf carts have been the rage in retirement and coastal communities for years.  They're cheap, they run on electric power and perfect for short distances.  Well, LSV's take that concept and go a step farther.

Center City Charlotte, The Plaza at Trade and Tryon Streets, was turned into a showroom of cars - cars you've probably never seen before.

"What went through my mind is what exactly am I looking at?" questioned uptown worker Jeremy Smith.  "Is it an electric go cart or what is this? I was kinda trying to figure it out..  piece it out in my mind."

They're likely to be a piece of the electric car market.  The LSV, which stands for low-speed vehicle.  On the order of a golf cart but with all the safety features of a car.

"We're looking for a vehicle that people in Charlotte, in Austin, in many of these cities that are going green and really get the notion that the time for electric vehicles is here. It's now," said Batt Humphreys with Tomberlin, the Augusta, Georgia-based manufacturer of some of the most popular brand of LSV's.

Americans drive 15 billion miles a week on short commutes - seven miles or less from their home - to places like work and to run errands.

For such short distances, advocates say, it hardly makes sense running a gas-guzzling SUV.

Humphreys took us on a ride to try it out.  One thing right away you notice, there's no cranking the engine.

With names Vanish, E-Merge and E-Motion.

And features like seat belts that have air bags inside and disc brakes.  And a wider wheel base Tomberlin says its cars are road worthy.

One hurdle LSV manufacturers are trying to overcome is Congress.  Even though the cars can get up to speeds of 45 miles an hour they're only legal on roads where the posted speed limit is 35 or lower.

"If you open up the corridors a little bit. It you open them up to 45 mile per hour roadways than electric vehicles can start taking a larger share of the commuter base. So there is an option," said Humphreys.


We got plenty of stares on the road trip we took around Center City.

We asked Humphreys is this the car of the future? "I think this has the potential of being a piece of the future," he said.

What makes the Low Speed electric vehicles attractive are the price.  The model we were in runs about $15,000.  A far cry from the all-electric Tesla (price tag $120,000) that we took for a ride two months ago.

75 percent of the roads in this country carry speed limits of 45 or lower which is why Tomberlin and other LSV manufacturers are trying to get Congress to get the laws changed.

They face a hurdle from the insurance industry which says they aren't crashworthy to be on the road with larger, faster cars.

The cars are for sale now, these aren't futurist cars.  There are dealers all over the country.

And you think about all the short-distance driving you do, supporters say there's a huge market for low speed electric cars.

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