Quite a few years ago I bought a ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) car made in Canada after seeing Canadian funny man Rick Mercer of the Mercer Report extol the virtues of the car: a vehicle that could be charged with a regular electrical cord, room to accommodate two people comfortably, and containing enough space to carry a week’s worth of groceries.
I found out that MC Electric in Seattle had a showroom and offered the ZENN and another electric car called Miles. I didn’t like the Miles, but I sat in the ZENN and it was comfortable for my hefty six foot frame. It was priced five thousand more than what I expected, however. A week or two later I found a used ZENN in Bellevue and bought it after my wife, Peg drove it, loved it and named it “Mousey” for it’s silver color.
We got a bargain, because all of the batteries needed to be replaced. We had the car towed to a small auto shop in Puyallup and ordered regular automobile batteries sent to the shop. When they were all installed Peg and I retrieved “Mousey.” We didn’t know how far the ZENN would travel on new batteries, but drove from Puyallup toward our home in the north end of Tacoma. We ran out of power just as we reached The Lobster Shop on Ruston Way. It was lunch time, so we asked if we could plug in our car while we had lunch. The manager said “sure.” Luckily I had brought along a fifty foot extension chord. After lunch we continued our drive home. It was a little slow going uphill on the winding road, but we made it.
Lack of power steering was a little hard on Peg, so we sold the car for a profit and got her another car. The ZENN, however kept calling to me. My Dodge Durango was costing me a small fortune, so I looked around and found another used ZENN, flashier (like the one I had seen in Seattle) than Peg’s Mousey, in Bellevue, also. We traded straight across – my Durango for the ZENN. We named the car Azure Te (Paris Blues) a favorite song of Peg’s. The car was blue, but I wasn’t at all when I noted the drop in gasoline costs.
The ZENN is what is called a neighborhood vehicle, you don’t take it on road trips. It’s designed for going to Safeway, Fred Meyer, Dollar Tree, nearby restaurants, hardware store, and other local shopping. It is restricted to 35 miles per hour. Azure Te would do 37. I figured I had a range of about 18-19 miles, which was ideal for most of our driving. One morning I had a meeting with Chuck Matthaei, Chairman of the Board of the Roman Meal Company. We were working on a campaign about nutrition. Chuck wanted to make sure people knew about the benefits of a healthy diet. I had not plugged in my ZENN the night before, so had to call and explain to Chuck that I had forgotten to charge my battery. Chuck said, “Doman you are the only person I know who could come up with that excuse.”
Everywhere I went, it seemed like the ZENN caught the eye of other drivers. I don’t now how many people pulled up next to me at a stoplight and asked what kind of car I was driving. I would reply, “It’s a ZENN all electric car – Zero Emissions No Noise!” I let my only grandson drive around an empty parking lot while he was years away from getting a driver’s license. The look of joy on his face said everything else. It was a fun car.
Eventually, I sold the ZENN and made a profit, again. But now, several years later each time I buy gas, I think about the money-saving ZENN. Over the past several months I have visited Craig’s List searching for a ZENN for sale. A few weeks ago I found one and contacted the company MC Electric, just like years ago. I talked with the owner of the company, Jim Johnson. It turned out he had been president of The Rotary Club of Seattle – International District a few years before I was president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8. We had a nice chat and he invited me to stop in. I hadn’t been to Seattle since COVID hit, but Peg and I are starting to plan for theatre plays, and concerts again for reviewing this fall, so I suggested a day and Jim said the day was perfect he would be celebrating a couple of employee birthdays for lunch that day.
Friday, a freeway full of trucks celebrated the movement back to normal following the pandemic. I arrived over a half hour late, but it was no problem. Gone was the showroom on Dearborn; this location on South Stacy Street was more like a mechanic’s garage without the oil and gasoline. MC Electric is now providing special electric vehicles for parking enforcement, campus security, and meter reading. The majority of the room was taken up with three vehicles all awaiting the new Lithium batteries (estimated to be delivered in September) – “They stand apart from other batteries in their high charge density and high cost per unit. Depending on the design and chemical compounds used, lithium cells can produce voltages from 1.5 V (comparable to a zinc–carbon or alkaline battery) to about 3.7 V.” – Wikipedia
Jim came out of this office and saw me. I received a short tour. There were two ZENN cars inside, both needed batteries. The depleted ones sat infront of each car. One had been brought in by a customer and had asked Jim to find a charity to donate the car to once the new batteries came in and were installed. This reminded me of my year as Rotary president. I drove a brand new Camaro and at the end of my year it was up for auction at our big annual fundraiser. I might have to keep an eye out for a local charity with the ZENN prize.
The second ZENN had a fold back top and air conditioning. Come September I’ll have to check on it’s availability. Jim invited me into his office. I just laughed, it felt like home. Amid the Rotary mementos there were stacks of god knows what and various boxes. We talked for half an hour or so. He introduced me to Suk who was on her way out to buy Dim Sum to celebrate her birthday. She still drives a ZENN. While she was gone Jim and I moved into the conference room, which was crowded with boxes and stacks of papers. I just can’t tell you how at ease I felt.
When Suk returned, Keith joined us (from Tacoma via Sounder). He had finished making several in-house calls for the morning. I had already signed the birthday card for Suk. She passed out chop sticks and paper plates. She then opened the containers of Dim Sum. We all chatted and laughed and when people finished their lunch I passed around a bag of macadamia nut and white chocolate cookies for dessert. It was like we had all become friends just over a Friday lunch hour.
Back home I searched Youtube and found Deb Seymour singing “Little ZENN Car” in had a nice beat . . . very danceable.
In the video Seymore mentioned SEVA (Seattle Electric Vehicle Association). SEVA has details on doing conversions from gasoline power to electrical power. I briefly toyed with the idea of converting our Volvo to battery power . . . but decided I just didn’t want to go down that road. All are invited to attend SEVA monthly meetings on the Second Tuesday of every month at Church of the Nazarene in Seattle – seattleeva.org/wp/
SEVA has a list of the new electric models and their manufacturers. The history of electric cars is nothing new. You would be shocked at the details. Electric cars go back to 1834 – seattleeva.org/wp/learn/ev-history/
Jim gave me an ancient folder about the ZENN car. I’ve leafed through it a couple of times. I may just have to look him up come September . . . and the lithium batteries.
Also, coming up in September is the 8th Annual National Drive Electric Steilacoom Festival. I think past state rep. Dick Muri has been hosting this event each year. Circle the date on your calendar – Saturday, September 11th, the event is open from 11 AM to 3 PM. This event is for anyone interested in talking with owners of Plug in Electric Vehicles and learning more about the continuous improvement in these new ways to travel. Register here – driveelectricweek.org/event.php?eventid=2658
Owning Tesla M3 for about two years can tell only positive about the experience. We bough it for my wife’s daily commute, but found it’s a great car for long ways also. My son plays hockey and we had a bunch of trips from Seattle to Vancouver (both WA and BC), Oregon, Spokane, Tri City, so 20 minutes coffee break two-three times on the road while it’s charging at Supercharger is not a problem at all. Just would mention that these stations are for Tesla only, so Audi E-Tron may not be so pleasure to have 😉
Another thing we found – it’s not a car, it’s a gadget that is great, fast and comfortable!
General 110V house outlet works well to keep it at 80% of charge level overnight and we use a local Supercharger to fill it before a long trip.
Of course we keep Highlander as the second car for skiing, camping, etc. but using every chance to drive Tesla.
Don Doman says
Great input. Thanks for the commentary. I like hearing the how, the length, and the balance you use to propel your trips down the short road and the long road. Excellent.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for this article and info. I’m so happy to see more and more manufacturers going to zero emission vehicles. This is a really cute car and a wonderful idea, but the range is just too small. I bought a Nissan Leaf a few years ago for a commuter car and drive it all the time. It too can charge with just a regular 120v outlet. It has a range of about 80 miles. The standard range for the new electric vehicle is in the hundreds, so technology is getting better and better.
Don Doman says
Thanks for commenting.
I agree. Changes have certainly been happening with electric cars. The ZENN, for it’s price was just fine. Most of our shopping and travel is just a few miles. We used it as a second car and it was very reliable. I’m anxious to see how the older ZENN does with the brand new Lithium batteries. I like the Leafs, too.
Thanks for sharing.