Gentlemen, unplug your engines

The GEM e4, by Global Electric Motorcars.

Electric vehicles keep charging ahead — maybe not as fast as some would like, but it seems as if every week I hear something new an interesting about electric vehicles.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R-Montgomery) bill that would allow people to operate low-speed electric vehicles on some roadways.

I had this vision of golf carts scooting down the road past my house, but that’s not quite it.

These things are also known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles — NEVs — and the National Highway Safety Administration defines them as any four-wheeled electric vehicle whose top speed is between 20 and 25 miles an hour.

Pictured with this post is a four-passenger electric vehicle, the GEM e4, by Global Electric Motorcars. It has four-wheel braking, rack and pinion steering, three-point seat belts and a range of about 30 miles. They start at just over $10,000.

Greenleaf’s legislation would allow them to run on roads where the speed limit is 25 mph or less, although local governments would still have the authority to nix their use on even these roads.

Meanwhile, charging stations are cropping up throughout the region.

In December, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection gave Car Charging Group, Inc., a $1 million grant to install electric vehicle charging stations at 17 turnpike service plazas. The first plazas to get them will be ones undergoing renovations between between Harrisburg and New Jersey.

Also last month, Radnor Township cut the ribbon on its first public electric vehicle charging station. Community Energy, a local renewable energy company, owns and operates the station, which was funded by the DEP.

For those who want to get a closer look at some of the new all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the Philadelphia Auto Show, opening Saturday and continuing through Feb. 5, has a selection. Among them:

2013 Ford C-MAX Energi, a plug-in hybrid with a 500-mile overall driving range. It has technology that gives instantaneous fuel economy information, as well as tips for optimizing the regenerative braking that charges the battery while the car is moving.

2012 Volvo C30 Electric, Volvo's first full-electric car. It has a range of up to 90 miles per charge. The lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable from an ordinary outlet.

2012 Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid. The gasoline-powered engine produces electricity for the motor and can power the wheels in some circumstances, stretching the Volt’s range to more than 300 miles.