Curbside Classic: Nevco Gizmo – Eugene’s Own EV

We’re all experts on EVs now, and can chuckle about the challenges EV makers had before large lithium-ion batteries made cars like the Leaf, Volt and Tesla (relatively) possible, although still not cheap. Lead acid battery-powered EVs  are quickly becoming anachronisms, but during that long wait, there was a never-ending stream of lead-acid EVs: conversions, little city cars, Zaps, etc. Given the very low energy density and high weight of lead-acid batteries, finding the (relative) sweet spot between vehicle weight, performance and cost was the challenge. The locally-built Nevco Gizmo hit it about as well or better than any of them. That still didn’t keep it from finding itself on the ash-heap of EV history.

As with all EVs, the trick is to keep them as light as possible to maximize their batteries’ limited capacity. The Gizmo, conceived in 1993, was designed to carry on passenger on urban trips, totaling 40 miles or less, at speeds up to 40 mph. As we know all-too well from the Volt, the vast majority of Americans’ daily driving regime fall under the 40 mile per day limit. Obviously, with its top speed of forty, the Gizmo is non-freeway compatible. Frankly, the Gizmo reflects its Eugenian heritage: perfect for scooting around a not-so-big town where one can very easily avoid the freeway, and staying dry doing it.

With an empty weight of 340 lbs, the Gizmo’s 48 volt golf-cart batteries almost double that. And of course, they’re subject to the usual degradation. Earlier versions used the lighter AGM sealed-type batteries, but they were fragile if not kept topped up and charged just so. Too many folks fried their packs; the bane of lead-acid EVs. Later versions went to heavier but tougher golf-cart batteries: eight six-volters.

The Gizmo appeared in the late nineties here with a fairly decent sized-splash; lots of news coverage and the usual EV hype and optimism, especially given that it was locally produced. I’m not sure when the plug was finally pulled, a few years back. Maybe when Nissan announced the Leaf?  Their web site is still live, if you’d like to peruse it.

The final base price shown on the site was $12,000. Given that a new Mitsubishi i goes for $22k here (after tax credits), it’s easy to see why it failed. If it were priced at about $5-7k, it might have found a small but sustainable niche. Maybe manufacturing in China? But Nevco was determined to build them here.

Which leads me to the efforts of another Eugene outfit trying to do almost the same thing: Arcimoto. It also has lead-acids, although li-ions will be optional. And top speed is supposedly a freeway-compatible 65mph. Price: TBD. But given its greater complexity and speed, it’s bound to butt right up into Mitsubishi i and Leaf territory. Prospects for success: about the same as the Nevco Gizmo.