WASHINGTON - It's a tough sell.
Even its name, Wheego Whip LSV, is a marketing obstacle.
"It sounds like a toy," said Ria Manglapus, my Washington Post associate for vehicle evaluations.
It looks like a toy, too, reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored Smart Fortwo city car.
But the Smart Fortwo, running on gasoline, can go up to 90 miles per hour, assuming there are no crosswinds. The all-electric, 2010 Wheego Whip is a low-speed vehicle, thus the "LSV" moniker, limited to 25 miles per hour.
The Wheego Whip LSV (low-speed vehicle) is a world-sourced electric car with 33 percent of its parts from North America and final assembly in Ontario, Canada. The front-wheel-drive subcompact is among the first of what will be a wide range of electric vehicles with varied capabilities. Washington Post
In a perfect world, the Wheego Whip would make perfect sense as a neighborhood automobile, particularly in neighborhoods with posted speed limits of 35 miles per hour and lower. It consumes no fossil fuels, emits no fog-enhancing pollutants, and disturbs no civil decibel levels. It doesn't gobble precious shopping-center parking space. It is pedestrian friendly, which is a good thing in places such as my Arlington, Va., neighborhood, which periodically is crowded with middle- and high school students ambling to and from their respective campuses.
But, alas, the world is dangerously imperfect.
Here in Arlington, some residential areas are fond of traffic-interruption devices - roundabouts and annoying road bumps, which local officials call "speed humps." The roundabouts and bump-humped streets do little to halt speeding vehicles. I experienced that first-hand when I dared to drive the Wheego Whip during Arlington's rush hours - 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 7 p.m.
Wheego Whip LSV
• The bottom line: The Wheego Whip LSV is among the first of what will be a wide range of electric vehicles with varied capabilities - including entry-level, low-speed neighborhood cars, such as the Wheego and Chrysler's GEM automobiles; mid-range, highway-capable models, such as the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf; upscale performance models, such as the Fisker Karma and the Tesla; and commercial delivery models, such as those being developed by Smith Electric Vehicles of Kansas City, Mo. We look forward to driving them all.
• Propulsion system: The power pack consists of 12 8-volt lead-acid batteries for a total of 96 volts. The batteries supply energy to an alternating current, brushless motor (type: AC41). Equivalent peak horsepower is 40 horsepower at a maximum 3,200 rotations per minute. Maximum torque is 110 foot-pounds. There is no transmission per se. Instead, the electric motor is mated to a forward-reverse shifter that operates the car as if it were in permanent second gear.
• Capacities: There are seats for two people and cargo room for a week's worth of groceries for driver and occupant.
• Range: Real-world range is 40 miles driving distance per full charge. Range could be extended to 50 or 55 miles under ideal conditions - good roads; driving under 25 miles per hour; not using the heater, air conditioner or radio. Range is negatively affected by increased speed, uphill driving, onboard weight, cold weather, fast starts and stops.
• Plug-in: A full charge takes eight hours using regular house current - 115 to 120 volts.
• Safety: As matters now stand, neighborhood low-speed electric vehicles are not required to have air bags or roll-over crash protection. They do have seat belts.
• Price: The base price of the 2010 Wheego Whip LSV is $18,995. Estimated dealer's invoice price on that model is $17,000. Price as tested is $22,785.
I annoyed presumably "green" drivers in gas-electric Toyota Prius cars. I thought they'd be happy to see a fellow motorist going "green," tooling along well within the speed-limits of multi-humped residential streets, in a little all-electric car.
But once they'd sated their curiosity about the odd-looking, slow-moving little car in front of them, many motorists tailgated me, flashed their lights, honked and ultimately zoomed around me, with their cars and trucks undulating over speed humps like a herd of animals roaming an African savanna.
Ironically, on the busy, commercial Lee Highway, which is free of roundabouts and humps and is given to more traffic volume, the Wheego Whip made more sense. Lee Highway's bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic moves so slowly, a 25-mile-per-hour vehicle fits well within that motoring milieu.
But that is hardly a selling point, especially for a front-wheel-drive car that is bereft of air bags, electronic stability control, and robust side-impact crash protection because it essentially is meant to be operated in the manner of a golf cart.
The Wheego Whip LSV has all of the appearance, pricing (with a base manufacturer's suggested retail price of $18,995), and much of the function of a real automobile. But it is not a car meant for the mass market.
Instead, it is an automobile meant for visionaries, for people who can see beyond gasoline because they are keenly aware that gasoline, like the oil from which it comes, is not forever. It is a car for committed geeks, people who know that all-electric vehicles eventually will occupy a significant place among personal-transportation products and who are willing to accept short-term sacrifices and other trade-offs in support of that development.
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