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Polaris GEM e6, largest of a line of low-speed electric vehicles
Polaris GEM e6, largest of a line of low-speed electric vehicles

Polaris GEM... of the Low-Speed EV World

By Bill Moore

More than two decades ago, automotive dreamers like Dan Sturgess envisioned an urban world where clean, quiet, low-speed electric vehicles would thrive. Not only are they thriving, but they're even going autonomous.

"A golf car on steroids" is how some viewed the GEM low-speed, neighborhood electric vehicle or NEV. It was 10 mph faster than your standard golf kart and was permitted to legally travel of public roads posted at 35 mph or less (a handful of states increased this to 40 mph). It also had enhanced safety features: windshield wipers, turn signals, and seat belts. And believe it or not, they were selling all over the world by the tens of thousands: far in excess of highway-capable electric cars of the era. Presidents, Prime Ministers and Putin drove them.

How the world has changed in the last few years. NEV or Low-Speed EVs, if you wish, are still selling well, but their high-speed cousins are now quickly catching up. The Tesla Model 3 is now among the Top Ten selling passenger car in America. EVs are no longer a niche product.

With all the focus of late on the likes of Tesla and Chevy and Nissan, I thought it might help put things in perspective if we caught up with what's happening in the NEV world by talking to Polaris GEM's business director Tate Johnson.

It turns out a lot is happening. When EV World came across its first GEM was at EVS 14 in Orlando, Florida in December 1997. Shortly thereafter, it was acquired by Chrysler who held on to it for about a decade, selling it to Polaris, the recreational vehicle giant. Since acquiring the one-time Fargo, ND-based company and moving it to Iowa, the company has since co-located production to California after acquiring Taylor Dunn. They've also redesigned it and even given it a lithium-ion battery option. It now comes in 2-seat, 4 and 6-seat versions like the one pictured above. There are also work truck versions. And maybe most interesting of all, there at some half-dozen firms that are using GEMs for autonomous vehicle testing programs.

In this nearly 26-minute interview, Johnson brings us up-to-speed on where the NEV/LSEV category is going and in a world of increasing urbanization and emphasis on sustainable mobility, their future seems bright.

You can listen to the interview using the embedded MP3 player below, or by downloading it to your favorite audio device.

Times Article Viewed: 8547
Originally published: 26 Sep 2018

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