What better way to let people know about your company's mission than to put it directly in the name. The company that made the ZENN electric car took the best branding ideas and put them to use in the world of electric vehicles. ZENN is an acronym for Zero Emission, No Noise.
Recent activity from the ZENN camp has made a bit of noise, however. In April the company ceased production of its vehicles to pursue a related path in the electric-vehicle industry. The announcement actually came in September 2009 when the company's chief executive officer said ZENN would stop making cars so it could focus on "selling its drive-train technology to other manufacturers."
In its original form the ZENN was a two-seat vehicle powered by a battery pack. The vehicle was designed to travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour over a range of up to 40 miles. According to information from the company, only 500 ZENN electric cars were sold. That low number of sales was a primary reason for pursuing a drive-train-specialist route, according to Ian Clifford, ZENN CEO.
ZENN Electric Cars - Big Vision
ZENN started its journey in the electric-vehicle industry with a vision of "returning to the purity of that original feeling" of being mobile without "the heavy costs of pollution and oil dependency." Among the ideas the company tried to put into its product were "exhilarating acceleration" and "enlightened mobility."
ZENN planned to grow into a global leader in "zero-emission transportation" from its base in Toronto, Ontario. It will continue to pursue a slightly different course with its trademark ZENNergy technologies and solutions, using what engineers have learned about electric-car design to contribute to an expanding industry.
Clifford came up with the idea of doing something different in transportation as far back as 1995. Some of the early electric cars were not available in his native Canada. The ZENN Web site indicates that he was interested in an electric car that was created more than half a century ago, the Henney Kilowatt. Clifford set his mind to creating a reliable vehicle with his company, Feel Good Cars, Inc., after trying the age-old vehicle.
The New Century
The company started by making plans to convert a French car, the Renault Dauphine, into an electric vehicle. Plans included selling the converted cars for about $25,000. Feel Good Cars eventually morphed into ZENN, which "entered into a technology agreement with EEStor," a company that was originally part of the computer-storage industry. A "super battery" was at the heart of this joint venture.
With all of this experience behind it, ZENN became a short-lived player in the world of smaller, low-speed electric vehicles. Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV) or low-speed vehicles (LSV) were recognized as a separate category among cars. In fact, the LSV category was created by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 1998.
The ZENN was first imported from France without a drive-train. The company then installed the electric motor and the battery group, completing a serviceable LSV that gave its few customers a pleasant surprise - it accelerated rather quickly and could take you on a trip of about 35 miles (unless you had the optional air-conditioning on). Then it would cover a bit less ground.
ZENN's cars were very popular in Florida and California. A few private individuals purchased them for use in residential areas and for urban driving. Businesses used them as security vehicles to patrol large parking lots and business properties. Recharging usually took about eight hours, though a quick-charger was available.
As mentioned earlier, only a few hundred customers found the ZENN worth the investment of about $17,000 to $18,000. The suspension was not strong enough to provide a smooth ride on a bumpy road, according to some reviews. Because it was classified as a neighborhood vehicle or low-speed vehicle, the ZENN wasn't required to have doors. But it did have them.
A few people who looked at the ZENN found the interior quality acceptable, if only above average. There was room to seat two adults comfortably, with ample storage space as well. This little car had some neat standard features such as power windows and carpeting. You could even order a stereo system and air-conditioning.
For ZENN, it seems the bottom line wasn't healthy enough to continue selling finished electric cars to the public. Price was a problem, to judge by reviews from the years during which the ZENN electric car was available. A number of NEV or LSV models were for sale at about half the price. True, they weren't complete cars like the ZENN but they sold better. In any event, the company is alive and well in a slightly different part of the electric-vehicle world.