BEST of the BEST 2014 | Wheels | Specialty Vehicles | Alternative Energy : ZelectricBug

If flower power were an alternative energy, it would propel the ZelectricBug. Instead, the car runs on lithium-iron-phosphate batteries—the same chemistry used by Tesla Motors. The batteries are stowed behind the backseat and in the nose, where the gas tank used to be. Zelectric Motors, a San Diego–based company, begins with a well-restored vintage Volkswagen Beetle (the company’s prototype is a red 1963 model), removes the engine, and replaces it with an electric propulsion system powered by the batteries. The car’s starting price is $45,000.

The Bug’s range on a single charge is 80 to 100 miles. Zelectric Motors retains the Beetle’s 4-speed manual transmission, but the car can be driven as though the transmission were automatic: The gears can essentially serve as driving modes, with the lower gears providing greater torque and thus quicker acceleration. The car’s top speed is more than 90 mph. Drivers old enough to remember the 1960s-era Beetles may be surprised by the absence of the clatter that came from the original car’s opposed 4-cylinder engine. Instead, all they will hear is the whisper of tire treads touching asphalt, the thump of wheels crossing over road bumps, and maybe the voice of “Mama” Cass Elliot singing inside their heads. (Zelectric Motors, 619.709.6155, www.zelectricmotors.com

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