Electric Car Lets Family Save on Gas, with Flair Todd Poelstra and Sally Day of Tucson, Ariz., drive a Zap Xebra, an all-electric car that costs about $10 a month to charge. The Xebra helps the family save big on gas, but with its bright green color, it's hard to run errands around town without drawing stares.

Electric Car Lets Family Save on Gas, with Flair

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If you live in a city with good public transportation, you may be leaving the car at home these days to save money on gasoline. But tens of millions of people - especially in the West - have no choice: It's drive or don't go. One family in Tucson found an alternative: to stick out like a sore thumb.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: People tend to feel anonymous when they're driving. They talk on their cell phones, fix their hair, and well, you know. But if you're Todd Poelstra and Sally Day, you're pretty much on display.

Mr. TODD POELSTRA (Zap Xebra Driver): We've had our picture taken countless times by people with their cell phones.

ROBBINS: That's because Poelstra and his wife drive an all-electric Zap Xebra. That's Zap spelled with a Z and Xebra with an X. It has three wheels and a rounded body - looks sort of like a Soviet-era car of the future - and it comes in bright - make that very bright - colors. Their car is lime green.

Mr. POELSTRA: Which is good because it is a small car so people notice it and it feels a little safer because of the color. One of the major downsides is it's not probably the safest car around. It is the safest motorcycle you can ever drive.

ROBBINS: And technically that's what the state of Arizona considers it - a motorcycle. It has two doors and four seats. The Zap Corporation took the frame of something akin to an Asian motorcycle rickshaw and had a Chinese company modify it.

Mr. POELSTRA: A little squeaky.

ROBBINS: The Xebra rides more like a 20-year-old car than a 1-year-old car. The company says quality is improving with newer models. So far about 700 have been sold in the U.S. for about $12,000 a piece. California just passed a $1,000 tax rebate for Xebra buyers. The company says there is a backlog on orders. That's probably because as the price of gas goes up, this all-electric vehicle looks more and more attractive.

Back in the good old days when gas cost $2.50 a gallon - last year - Todd Poelstra says he was using $100 a month in gas to fill his pickup truck, just to go places like the grocery store, where we're headed now. The Xebra uses $10 to $12 worth of electricity a month. He loves the car and loves telling people about it.

Mr. POELSTRA: It's minimal maintenance.

Mr. CLAY DEIRDROFF: Excuse me. Oh, I'm sorry.

ROBBINS: Oh, no, no. please.

Mr. DEIRDROFF: Am I interrupting?


Mr. DEIRDROFF: I'm just curious - what kind of car this was.

Mr. POELSTRA: It's a Zap Xebra - an electric car.

Mr. DEIRDROFF: Okay, cool. Is it totally electric or is it a hybrid?

Mr. POELSTRA: Totally electric.

Mr. DEIRDROFF: Right on, that's pretty cool.

ROBBINS: What happened there: a grocery store passerby named Clay Deirdroff. Todd Poelstra says it happens all the time.

Mr. POELSTRA: Every time we park, somebody wants to talk about the car.

ROBBINS: Though Poelstra's 12-year-old son Alex says occasionally drivers in large SUVs aren't so polite.

ALEX: A couple people yell when they see it.

ROBBINS: Like yell wahoo or yell...

ALEX: Sort of interesting...

ROBBINS: Words you would not want to say.

ALEX: Yeah, especially on national radio.

ROBBINS: The all-electric Xebra is obviously not for everyone. It does go 40 miles an hour, but only 25 miles on a charge, which is plenty for Poelstra, a college teacher, and his wife

Mr. POELSTRA: Shopping, dropping the kids off between swim meets, piano classes - all that kind of stuff. It's just our normal everyday car.

ROBBINS: But even this family also has a minivan to haul kids and loads, to go out of town, or to drive without attracting so much attention.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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