Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read MoreRead More
The Most Interesting EVs Are the Weird Ones
Electric cars and e-bikes dominate the discourse about sustainable transportation, but there are quirkier ways to move people around.
The Shogo’s front end shouts fast, and its steering yoke could’ve come off a race car — no surprise, since Honda motorsport engineers designed and hand-assembled it. Sure, the little electric vehicle tops out at 5 miles per hour. But sometimes it’s not about raw speed. It's about who gets to feel the glee of driving.
Developed as part of Honda’s “ Project Courage,” Shogo is a battery-powered ride built to let 4-to-9-year-old children’s hospital patients find a little extra joy as they drive themselves around the hallways. The kid EV comes with a tall mount at the back to hold a child’s IV and a toy bucket up front so stuffed animals can come along for the ride.
The Honda Shogo.Honda
Shogo looks like a souped-up version of Power Wheels, or a downsized go-kart purpose-built to set speed records in the hospital wing. It is, like many of the most interesting electric-powered vehicles out there, just a little weird. Electric cars and electric bikes have come to dominate the discourse about sustainable transportation, but there are quirkier ways to move people around, and those rides are going electric, too. We are finding out whether there’s a place in our transportation revolution for the oddballs, and whether battery power can replace gasoline in ATVs, dune buggies, and other people-movers.
Golf isn’t just a good walk spoiled. It’s also a sustainability bugaboo, given the land and water wasted on its courses (especially in places where grass was not meant to grow). Golf carts, on the other hand, are a remarkably good green transportation solution.
Electric cars, despite their potential to cut carbon emissions compared to gasoline-burners, still have lots of car problems — they’re heavy and powerful, for one thing, which makes them dangerous to pedestrians. There are better, smarter ways to move a family of four around a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood or downtown. Like an electric golf cart, for example.
Numerous towns around America have become much friendlier to using golf carts as a less formal, safer way to transport people across short or medium distances. In some of these places, low-speed golf carts are allowed to use the same footpaths where walkers walk and scooters scoot, but where anything you’d call a “car” is banned. Since golf carts are less dangerous than proper cars, younger teens can be allowed to drive them to school.
In the space between the golf cart and the EV you’ll find the tiny car that goes by many names: neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV), micro-EV, low-speed vehicle (LSV). Basically, picture something that’s more rugged than a golf cart and can travel at faster speeds — up to 35 mph — but isn’t overbuilt or powerful enough for highway driving. That wouldn’t appeal to people who want their vehicle to do everything, from trips down the block to journeys across the country.
The Wink Motors Mark 1.Wink Motors
On the other hand, LSVs are street-legal in many places where golf carts are not, and can accomplish all the local driving a full-size car can at a fraction of the cost. That makes them an attractive form of cheap, emissions-free transportation in places where cars really are the only way to get around — and hitting the road on board an electric golf cart, longboard, unicycle, or other form of non-fortified vehicle feels like staring death in the face on every trip.
City streets are for the practical and prosaic — the army of sensible crossovers that populate American roads. The place to find eccentric rides is everywhere else. Today, these icons are going electric.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have always been a perfect match for petroleum power, since their owners typically use them for working on the farm or terrorizing a dirt track — both activities that occur far from a high-speed charger. But here, too, battery power is on the verge of a breakthrough as range improves, because electrification offers the same benefits it does for a full-sized car: namely, lots of power, little maintenance, no noise, and low fuel costs.
Polaris, one of the biggest names in that market, recently rolled out the Ranger XP Kinetic. The company worked with Zero Motorcycles, the leading maker of zippy electric motorbikes, to help it build a four-wheeler with up to 80 miles of range to allow for plenty of mud-slinging on a single charge. Just like electric cars, the e-ATVs market has seen startups, like India-based Tachyon, try to sneak in and succeed before the legacy companies get serious about electrification. Even Tesla may get into the game, as it teased a possible future electric ATV during the reveal of the Cybertruck. (Its limited production runs of the Cyberquad for kids sold out immediately.)
The Polaris XP Kinetic.Polaris
For those who are more keen to drive a little (electric) dune buggy in the sand — and who’ve got a healthy bank account — there is the Meyers Manx 2.0, a $75,000 electrified take on classic dune buggy style. Volkswagen unveiled a concept car several years ago signaling its own intent to put a battery in a two-seat sand-slinger, but that project died on the vine, so we may have to wait for more affordable options to come.
Electrified boats, snowmobiles, and fat-tire motorcycles are bringing battery power to the lake, the mountaintop, and the dirt track. The electric airplane is difficult, but not impossible. Wait long enough and the electric revolution will come to vehicles built for just about any purpose or terrain, and all our adventures will get a little less carbon-intensive.