James-Mangrum_01_main
CHARGE! Mangrum fills up his ZENN.

‘A TRENDY VEHICLE’

For now, it may be easier to imagine a more modest — if still impactful — future for the electric vehicle in Rhode Island and nationwide; something like what James Mangrum, an architect on the East Side of Providence, his wife Laura McPeake, and their toddler are living now.

The couple has owned a Subaru Outback for some time. But with the birth of their child, they needed another car — something that could get McPeake, a doctor, to and from the hospital a mile-and-a-half away.

Mangrum had an uncle in California who owned a ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) electric vehicle — a converted diesel-fuel car. Intrigued, he went looking for a ZENN of his own and found a shiny blue model — a little two-seater with some trunk space in the back — on eBay for $6000.

The car runs on six car batteries. It’s quiet when it starts up. And it tops out at 40 miles per hour, which is just fine for the city streets if not quite highway grade. “I did accidentally take it on 95 going to the bus once,” Mangrum says, with a grin. “I had no business being there.”

McPeake says she was skeptical when her husband was eyeing the car online: “He said, ‘It has a heating system,’ and I said, ‘Yeah right.’ ” But it does have a heating system — even if it feels a bit like a hair dryer — and she’s warmed up to the car. It’s even made it through a couple of snowstorms.

This is a second car for a family that can afford one. It is a commuter vehicle that wouldn’t suffice on its own, but takes the Mangrum-McPeake clan most of the places it needs to go — the Whole Foods down the road, a monastery in Cumberland where the dogs, Pepper and Alice, like to run.

And with little else like it on the road, the car comes with another, less tangible perk. “I’ve never had a trendy vehicle before,” McPeake says, “and this one turns heads.”

David Scharfenberg can be reached atdscharfenberg@phx.com.

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