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This Car's a Gem

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Electric car seen on streets

Walk around downtown Sandpoint, somewhere between Second Avenue and the Town Square, and you're bound to hear the whispers. "What do you think it is?" they question as they peer into the out-of-proportion windows. "Does it have a motor? Do you think it's legal?"

Look closer, and you'll be asking the questions yourself the first time you spot the "GEM" car belonging to Seasons at Sandpoint.

Seasons is a lakefront development near the Edgewater just under construction, with sales offices on Second Avenue. And yes, the GEM is, indeed, a car, though not the typical four-wheel-drive model seen on local roads.

GEM stands for Global Electric Motorcars, LLC, a division of  DaimlerChrysler, and that's exactly what the GEM is—an electric car. In appearance, it looks like a cross between a golf cart and a Volkswagon Beetle. About 28,000 are in use throughout the United States, including the one here in North Idaho.

"Isn't it great?" enthused Kathy Chambers who, along with her husband Chris, works in the sales office for Seasons at Sandpoint. "We're going to use it for ferrying buyers down to the site and for short, sight-seeing tours of the downtown area."

GEM vehicles are street-legal in most states where they can be driven on roadways posted up to 35 mph. The vehicles have a top speed of 25 mph and meet all safety standards established by the federal government for Neighborhood Electric or Low Speed Vehicles. They come equipped with headlights, taillights, turn signals, windshield wipers, seatbelts and a horn—in short, all the critical bells and whistles a driver might want on the road.

As might be expected, a ride in the GEM is a quiet one—its electric motor makes it difficult to hear whether the car is running or not and, of course, it has zero emissions. Its six batteries—two under the hood and four under the seats - are designed to be recharged on a regular, 110 volt AC house current. The car can travel 50 to 60 miles on a charge and it charges in about eight hours.

The GEM has two gears—forward and reverse, operated by a switch on the steering wheel. It also offers a dual terrain switch, for driving on roadways or on turf, so yes, the GEM, which costs less than $10,000, is a golf cart, too. It also features removable doors, and the ability to engender whispers wherever you go.

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Landon Otis

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Sandpoint, GEM, Seasons at Sandpoint, electric car

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