Going Green with Cayman's first electric car!

The world is changing right before our eyes,” says John Felder of Cayman Automotive. “And we don’t need Al Gore to tell us that.

“For years we in the US liked our big trucks, and our gas-guzzling over-sized SUVs. But in the next three to five years we are going to see a deluge of electric cars coming on the market, not only in the US, but all across the Caribbean and right here in Cayman. Not only are these cars super fuel efficient – which is now a major advantage in the current economy, they also emit zero tailpipe emissions. There is absolutely no pollution from these cars. They are the cleanest cars in the world. And we all need to become more ‘clean and green.’

Mr Felder knows of what he speaks. Aside from being President and CEO of Cayman Automotive, he also had previously worked for many years with the Chrysler Corporation, the iconic big American maker. Ten years ago, Chrysler launched its Global Electric Motorcars [GEM] division specifically to produce electric cars. And last week, Mr Felder brought in the first fully all-electric car to Cayman, the GEMe4.

The car was formally unveiled on Friday, 13 March, at Boatswain’s Beach before the local media, assorted business figures, and a contingent of officers from the West Bay Police Station. Also on hand were representitives from Chrysler.

Classified as a Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle [NEV] in the US, GEM vehicles are limited to a top speed of about 30mph and can legally only be driven in those areas where speed limits are less than 35mph.

Next month, in Washington DC, the Democratic Congress is planning to push its “Green the Capital” initiative to make the House of Representatives carbon neutral within the next few years. And one way which that goal might be achieved is by allowing the use of electric cars within the capital city’s designated “Green Zone.”

Mr Felder would like to see the Cayman Islands Government follow suit and declare the area around George Town as an official “Green Zone” which would restrict speed limits to no more than 30mph.

“The GEM car has already been operated in the US for 11 years and nearly 40,000 electric cars are on the roads today – so this car has really been fully road tested” Mr Felder said. “They are very popular with post offices, and on college campuses, where they are used by the security and maintenance staff.”

He added that Grand Cayman, in particular, would be an “ideal model for all the Caribbean, leading the way in reducing tons of harmful pollutants in the air, while simultaneously saving millions of gallons of gasoline.” He also noted that the Sister Islands could benefit from the GEM car immediately because of their low population density and low speed limits.

The GEM car comes in six different models - three for passengers, three for utility. The passenger car comes in two-seater, four-seater, and six-seater models. The car can be fully re-charged in six to eight hours from virtually any 110 voltage outlet, much like plugging in an electric hair dryer. A Chrysler representative told Lifestyles of Cayman that “you can never over-charge the battery.” Depending on the model, there are six to nine of these, which are neatly hidden under the seats. The batteries should last three to five years.

All GEM vehicles have independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. The vehicle’s front wheels use disc brakes, with hydraulic drum brakes for the rear. The passenger model has a rear storage trunk which can carry approximately 100 pounds. The larger utility models have a payload of up to 1,450 pounds. All of the GEM cars also carry three-point seatbelts, headlights, windshield wipers and safety glass, which are required by US law before they are considered road worthy.

According to Chrysler, the cost of electricity to travel 50 miles in a GEM car is about US$1.00. The prices of the vehicles range from US$10,000 to $22,000, depending on the model and the number of options available; options include such items as mud flaps, embroidered floor mats, an audio system and electric accessory outlet.

While saving the environment and saving money were clearly the twin themes of John Felder’s GEM of a launch, one thing was also absolutely clear, the cute compact car with the surprisingly roomy interior – thanks largely to the expansive headroom and large windows, was fun to drive.

Taking her blue and white GEM for a test spin brought a big smile to West Bay Chief Sub-Inspector Angelique Howell. And Richard Hew, President and CEO of the Caribbean Utilities Company also clearly got a big charge out of his own test ride.

The technology is here, the price is right, and now it’s only a matter of political will to see the future and to embrace it, says an enthusiastic John Felder.

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