NATICK, Mass. - As he rolled up the hill near Building 45 at U.S. Army Garrison Natick, Rich Valcourt flipped the high-gear switch on the right side of the steering column, stepped on the accelerator, and reached the top with power to spare.

So much for any questions about the climbing ability of the 2010 Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) eL XD all-electric utility vehicle acquired in October by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Health Office. Next challenge: the snow and ice associated with a typical New England winter.

"I was waiting for people to say it will never hold up, which time will only tell, but I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the people in DPW," Valcourt said. "They really like the idea of having one of these."

Valcourt began his quest last spring to get one of the electric vehicles for the Environmental Health Office after seeing them in use at Fort Monroe.

"I said, 'that's something that we need here at Natick,'" Valcourt recalled. "It is being used throughout DoD."

Valcourt thought the GEM would be an ideal way to move people and equipment around Natick, a compact installation with a posted speed limit of 15 mph.

"We're not driving all over the place," Valcourt said. "It has everything you need for an installation. This beats all the goals; zero emissions, zero fossil fuel. This does it all."

With its 7-horsepower motor, the two-seat, front-wheel drive GEM can reach a top speed of 25 mph and carry as much as 1,100 pounds of cargo on its flat bed.

"You're not going to break speed records," Valcourt said. "It doesn't matter how fast it goes. The speed limit is 15 miles an hour."

The GEM runs on nine 8-volt batteries that can recharge in six to eight hours using a standard 110-volt outlet. When Valcourt pulled it into the garage, he simply plugged it in and walked away.

"It will maintain a charge for 24 weeks," Valcourt said. "We will get 30 miles to a charge."

Natick's GEM rides like an oversized golf court, but it has a generous, enclosed cab that affords great visibility. Valcourt also ordered an optional heater and defroster.

"I did it for some of the comforts that we wanted (because) this is New England," Valcourt said. "I know sometimes it's going to snow. It's going to rain. I wanted to make sure we were protected from the elements."

Inside the cab, all one heard was the gentle whir of the electric motor when the vehicle was in motion. As he passed by in his quiet, odd-shaped ride, Valcourt drew plenty of attention from pedestrians.

"People are always asking about it," Valcourt said. "Now, some people think it's ugly. It's not the sexiest vehicle, you might want to say."

But Valcourt, who envisions a fleet of them one day at Natick, said looking at the electric vehicle that way misses to point.

"Sustainability and the reduction of fossil fuels (are the) big (goals)," Valcourt said. "Going to an electric vehicle meets those objectives."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16