gizmo In The News

   

Somewhere between a Bike and a Buick....continued

The Gizmo is a not a conversion from an ICE automobile, but a ground-up design with an award-winning body penned by Mark Murphy of Electrathon racing fame (check out www.blueskydesign.com). The Gizmo goes. How about 40 mph for your local travel adventures? The diminutive vehicle seems to make friends easily judging by the many stoplight interviews I've had since taking delivery. The Gizmo runs on proven components: Advanced DC motor and a 48 volt pack of Trojan T-105 batteries. The pack takes about 2-4 hours to charge with the vehicle's Zivan on-board 110v charger (a 20 ft. retractable power cord is tucked away in the nose of the vehicle (no Kleenex jokes please...). Home Power fans with photovoltaic panels can easily charge the pack with a sunny day and about 600 watts worth of panels. A complete charge for folks on the grid costs about 40¢ based on national average utility rates. This works out to a nifty penny a mile fuel cost since the 900 lb. Gizmo gets about 40 miles per charge. (This is an honest 40 miles. The factory claims 50 miles per charge and I have personally achieved 42 miles with juice to spare, but let's keep it conservative.) Compared to a standard automobile's 6-8¢ per mile fuel costs, the Gizmo is a runaway bargain. But, I'm getting ahead of the story.

How it all began

Drive different. That's been my motto for most of my driving years. Off-beat transportation has always appealed to me. A Checker Marathon station wagon, 3 diesel Rabbits, a Fiat 850 spyder, a Mini, a Fiesta, a Festiva, a Lotus Elan and my current daily driver: a CNG powered Dodge van. Somewhere along the way "Drive Different" morphed into "Drive Efficient" (must have been the diesel Rabbits...) and in recent years I found myself lusting after the likes of EV1's and techno-marvels of similar persuasion capable of cruising long distances on minimal BTU's.

As luck would have it, I found a kindred spirit in my business partner, Michael Beebe. Mike is an old kit car builder and drag racer with a Master's degree in mechanical engineering and another graduate degree in, of all things, electric vehicle engineering (no kidding, there really was a grad program for this at one point in time). He has a Danish City-EL, a Commutacar, plus an EV kit car based on a Honda Civic chassis. He used to be a partner in an EV dealership back in the early 80's. Mike is not your average Joe.

We decided to form a company to develop and manufacture a small, affordable alternative fuel vehicle for local transportation. Yeah, I know: fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Our idea was a Model T for the new millennium. After a couple of years of development of a pedal-assisted, electric 3 wheeled bob-sled we called the "Bandit", we found our selling price would have put us in Honda Civic territory. It being always darkest before the dawn, in the midst of our funk we discovered that, much to our relief (or chagrin -- I'm not sure which), a company called NEVCO had beat us out of the gate with their Gizmo design. Being the mature souls we were, we pocketed our pride and signed up with NEVCO as their Midwest distributor and service center.

Our contact at NEVCO, Carl Watkins, has been great. Carl is a plain-spoken, forthright fellow with a "can do" attitude (the latter being a distinct asset in the topsy turvy world of EV marketing). Suffice it to say that NEVCO's vision and ours meshed perfectly: sensible transportation for a niche market that's easy on the environment and high on the fun and style scale. Well, so much for the prelude. Now we're Midget Motors at www.midgetmotors.com and doing nicely thanks for asking. But, back to the hero of the story....

First Impressions

Let's get up close and personal with the Gizmo. At first glance, the Gizmo warps your mind: it just doesn't fit into any established vehicle category. It looks a little like one of those swan boats they used to have in central park. It could be a kissin' cousin of a meter maid vehicle from Cushman. It's easy to imagine a helicopter rotor on the roof and to see it rising up over the county fairgrounds. People think "golf cart" from it's small size and the fact it is electric, but golf carts don't go 40 mph (unless you seriously modify them). Gizmo is no golf cart. I've heard "cool", "sweet", "adorable", "wild" to varying degrees from a cross section of observers. The Gizmo seems especially attractive to (in varying numbers) the following groups: kids, 20 somethings, women (of all ages), bikers (seriously, guys with full leathers and more tatoos than my lawn has weeds have kept me going for hours - they seem to get "it"), and men over 60 (maybe you just get to the point in life where you like what you like and the heck with what anyone else thinks?). Now this is quite a motley crew. How to market to such a diverse bunch as this? We're still working on it.

Many folks have remarked how small the Gizmo looks when they first see it. "What happens when an SUV smacks ya...har, har" is a oft repeated jibe. The Gizmo may be short by car standards, but it's long on safety.

The fiberglass roof is reinforced with a substantial roll bar and the steel tube chassis has triangulated reinforcements. There is a wrap-around steel tube embedded in the front of the fiberglass canopy that protects the driver against frontal impacts. The story is told of one prospective Gizmo customer driving smack into a dumpster at about 20 mph on a demo drive. The result? No injury to embarrassed driver and small fiberglass cracks in the Gizmo's nose but no noticeable deforming of the structure. Too bad there's no videotape of this!

An often overlooked aspect of safety is visibility. The standard white color, light reflective tape accents, dual-level lighting in the rear and it's unusual shape really make the Gizmo stand out in a crowd. Visibility for the driver is excellent through the lexan windshield and the dual side mirrors leave no blind spots to the rear.

There are many active safety features. The battery tray and DC motor are positioned low in the vehicle and midway between the two axles. This affords the Gizmo responsive handling and a high resistance to roll-over. You probably won't get an opportunity to test that rollbar mentioned earlier. The disc brakes are impressive. Emergency stops are remarkably short despite the skinny 135 width tires. The responsive steering and eager acceleration should help you steer clear of trouble spots.

On the Road

So let's go for a test ride. One of the crowd-pleasing features of the Gizmo is it's hinged canopy. Remember the Issetta or the Messerschmit cycle cars of the 50's? Nothing new under the sun. I enjoy leaving the canopy up when the vehicle is parked out in the world. It makes the Gizmo look like a giant clam yawning. OK, I've got a vivid imagination. Regardless, it sure draws crowds of curious onlookers. Needless to say, with a gimmick like this, you don't enter in the traditional automotive manner (i.e. open door, step up and in, twist around). You simply pull the release handle in the nose of the Gizmo, raise the canopy and sit down. It is counterbalanced on hydraulic struts (just like a van tailgate) so it only takes a minimum effort to swing it up and out of the way. Once the canopy is raised, there's nothing between you and the seat because there is no steering wheel and the dashboard is part of the canopy assembly itself. Strange, but functional. Plunk yourself down and reach over your head to grasp the grab handle on the inside of the canopy assembly and pull the whole assembly down to lock it into place. Once inside, you have the feel of a jet fighter cockpit (minus the sidewinder missiles). Though small, the cockpit doesn't seem cramped. The panoramic lexan windshield and vinyl side curtains lend the Gizmo interior a feeling of spaciousness. The side and rear curtains can be rolled down for a convertible effect or they can be easily removed altogether. The cargo area is behind the driver's seat. I've fit 6 bags of groceries there. It works perfectly for the urban errand runner.

Check the forward/reverse switch on the right side of the cockpit and adjust the left and right sideview mirrors. Time to fasten your lap and shoulder belt and get the key in the ignition. The key receptacle is mounted on the floor to the left of the driver seat, a nod to the Saab automobile tradition. Turn the key and indicator lights spring to life on the dashboard. Rear running lights in amber and red are illuminated day and night increasing your Gizmo's visibility in traffic. The dashboard houses a speedometer and state of charge meter plus switches for turn signals, hazard warning flashers, headlights, windshield wiper and defogger.

Steering is accomplished by control levers that sprout from the floor on the left and right side of the driver's seat. Think of motorcycle handle bars except they're not turning around a central axis. The left stalk has the emergency brake and release. The right has the accelerator in the form of a trigger and a motorcycle type brake lever. Since the motor directly drives the single rear wheel via a standard motorcycle chain, there's no shifting to be done. Just squeeze the trigger/accelerator and off you go. Most folks find steering with handles instead of a steering wheel takes some getting used to, especially when steering in reverse. A few turns around a deserted parking lot are usually all that is required to gain some confidence before venturing out into traffic.

The motor has plenty of torque off the line so squeeze gently or you'll be leaving a lot of rubber on the road. Most test drivers have been surprised by the acceleration from a standing start. Up to about 20-25 mph, the Gizmo accelerates smartly, then more gently up to its 40 mph top speed (remember DC motors have maximum torque at 0 rpms). Faster speeds are possible, especially going downhill, but exceeding 50 mph is not recommended as the motor might be damaged by overreving. I have found that 32 mph is a comfortable cruising speed on the flat. "Comfortable" is, of course, a subjective judgement. The Gizmo will actually do 42 mph flat out and a bit more with a tailwind. I don't feel right running it at the max all day. Others might feel differently. To each his own.

You will find that a gentle hill will drop you to about 25 mph unless you really peg the amps. Serious hills can be negotiated, but I have found that 20 mph is a functional speed on the steeper grades (remember the slower you go, the more torque is available fromt the electric motor).

On the road, the Gizmo feels more like a go-kart than a car. The midships placement of the motor and batteries work wonders for the handling, even on the skinny 135/12 bias ply tires. Lane changes can be accomplished in the blink of an eye. You will experience that sports car "glued to the road" feeling. On the straightaway, the Gizmo tracks straight and true without the little course adjustments that are the norm for an ICE automobile. The disc brakes are solid and confidence-inspiring, hauling the 900 lb. vehicle down from speed without drama. The flat cargo area behind the driver's seat will hold 6 grocery bags, but not a 4X8 sheet of plywood -- you'll still need your EV truck or van for loads like that!

The turning radius is comfortably small which makes for easy parking in combination with the vehicle's short length. Maneuvering in reverse using control levers to steer is unfamiliar at first, but after a bit of finagling things fall into place nicely.

Adjust Your Attitude

Suddenly, you will find yourself grinning uncontrollably. Waving children gawk at you from the rear windows of minivans. This little car puts a big smile on your face. It reminds me of the first day with a new bike. King of the world.

On the other hand, there are those other cars to contend with; those other cars that look so BIG from the Gizmo vantage point. I have found myself more than once deliberately expanding my energy field, stretching my aura as it were, or just plain putting out the "I may looks small, but don't mess with me" vibes. Driving a Gizmo in traffic means staking your claim to your lane and sticking to it. I don't ask for trouble by hogging the passing lane, but I don't make any apologies if I have to drop down to 20 mph to crest a serious hill either. Hey buddy, if you're in a hurry, you're welcome to pass me when you have a chance. Being "greener and cleaner" than the next guy helps one's sense of righteous indignation. Nothing like a little ecological "holier-than-thou" chip on the shoulder, eh? But back to mundane matters.

As mentioned earlier, there is a learning curve. Getting used to the Gizmo controls takes a few minutes. After all, this thing is sans steering wheel. No brake pedal. No accelerator pedal either. In short, a unique driving experience. Going from your typical automobile to the Gizmo is a bit like dropping about 10 inches off your belt size overnight. The Gizmo is about one third the width of a standard American automobile. Suddenly, one lane on the road seems like 3 lanes. Parking spots? If you can see any daylight at all, the Gizmo will scoot right in. Driving the Gizmo is persuasive. It persuades you to make certain adjustments. Twenty-somethings seem to love the unusual configuration, but the natural impatience and energy of that age group makes strange bedfellows with the less-than-a-Camaro-Z28 performance of the Gizmo. I have had several diesel VW Rabbits over the years. Driving any of them forces one to accept one's limitations. Maybe this was good practice for Gizmo ownership. I really don't mind people passing me up on the road. The Gizmo has helped me rediscover the futility of racing from stoplight to stoplight in city traffic. Many's the time I've had impatient drivers blow by me at the first opportunity only to have me pull up next to them at the next stoplight.

Some skeptics have wailed about not being able to take the Gizmo on the freeway. Statements like "how do you get anywhere without taking the freeway?" have made me realize how blinded we are by our interstate-highway lifestyle. Yes, you can take alternate routes to city destinations that do not require driving on gravel roads. Happily, I've been put in much closer contact with city neighborhoods driving the Gizmo. This has been a surprising and pleasant benefit of Gizmo ownership. Sitting closer to the ground than in my CNG powered van and exposed on both sides (remember the Gizmo is a single seater), conversations pop up often at stoplights. I can practically reach out and shake hands with my fellow motorists on the left and the right due to the absence of a passenger seat. I'm "out there". Suspended in a public space and it's not half bad.

How Does it Stack Up Against the Competition?

The Gizmo occupies a special position on the EV continuum: much more than an electric bike and something short of what many enthusiasts think of as an electric car. Its combination of performance, carrying capacity, ease of ownership and affordability is unique. Here are a few specific comparisons.

Most prospective customers tend to compare the Gizmo to one the GEM EV models, now under the Daimler-Chrysler wing. Certain GEM models are priced squarely in the Gizmo's neighborhood and offer two or four person transportation. Unlike the GEM models, the Gizmo is not limited to a top speed of 25 mph (it does 40 mph) and it exceeds the range of the GEM by a healthy margin (40 miles vs. 25 miles). On a more subjective level, the GEM models, while finished nicely, look like golf carts. The Gizmo looks like.....something else. Advantage: Gizmo.

Another obvious competitor is the Sparrow from Corbin Motors. I like the Sparrow. It is a great package. It beats out the Gizmo on style and speed (the Sparrow will do 60 mph+). You can take it on a freeway and hold your own. On the other hand, it's about $6000 more than a Gizmo and has a little less cargo room plus the liability (in my mind) of sealed vs. flooded batteries. Word on the street has it that the sealed units have proven to be more than a little finicky about charging whereas the old tried and true Trojans in the Gizmo let average owners take some liberties in this department and live to fight again another day.

One might consider the Lectra or Escarati electric motorcycles to be an alternative to the Gizmo. They both enjoy a price advantage over the Gizmo (about $5,000 vs. $8,500), but suffer from shorter range, less carrying capacity, and lack of all-weather capability (i.e. Gizmo's got a roof and enclosed cockpit).

On the upper end, there are the EV's from our two Canadian neighbors: Dynasty Motors and Feel Good Cars. The "IT" from Dynasty Motors is a cool, clean-paper design for a low-speed, 4 passenger EV to be available in different configurations (e.g. small pickup). Feel Good Cars offers a restored Renault Dauphine sedan capable of highway speeds. Again, the prices are considerably higher than a Gizmo ($5000 or more over the Gizmo price), but that buys you some serious carrying capacity and cachet. The IT is limited to 25 mph, but the Feel Good EV is designed for highway speeds. You do get what you pay for....either of those vehicles offer a very liveable EV.

In the Final Analysis

Gizmo gives you great gobs of gratification. It delivers on the EV promise of clean, quiet, transportation that's easy on the environment and on the wallet.

It seems more like an appliance than a transportation device. The inherent simplicity of the package is strikingly different from most modern gadgets. Get in, turn the key and squeeze the accelerator trigger. Steer and brake when needed. It doesn't get much simpler than this. Maintenance? Add distilled water to the batteries once a month. Repairs? Every component is easily accessible and simple to replace if need be. Our Gizmo had a fender damaged during the long truck ride from Oregon to Ohio. Four torx fasteners were removed. The fender was lifted off the vehicle, repaired on a body shop workbench, painted and popped back on as easy as you please. Nothing to it. That's a design for the real world, not just the showroom floor.

Do I still have my Gizmo grin after 600 miles on the road? You betcha. This is the second "car" the American household needs. The beauty is, the average American family can afford it and maintain it. Not many commercial EV offerings can make that claim. The Gizmo nails it. Guess what the best part is? It's no prototype-soon-to-be-available-maybe. It's on the street and for sale now. Ah, it's a good time to be alive.....

What are You Waiting for?

Midget Motors is the Midwest distributor of the Gizmo. We are based in Norwalk, Ohio. Refer questions to us at: www.midgetmotors.com or directly to the Gizmo's manufacturer, NEVCO at www.nevco-ev.com

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