Katie Saddington uses her electric car to go to work at Rogue Valley Medical Center and to run errands. - Jim Craven

The ZENN of driving

Katie Saddington celebrated Earth Day by getting in her brand new car and driving silently to work.

The 40-year-old Medford resident's conscience was clear Tuesday, and so were the emissions from the all-electric vehicle that she purchased Friday.

"It's affordable and great for the environment," she said.

With gas prices expected to hit $4 a gallon this year, Saddington smiles as she passes neighborhood service stations and the majority of cars that require fuel.

"They certainly can't siphon my gas," said Saddington, who gets her energy by plugging into any standard outlet, which will partially recharge the car in four hours and fully recharge it in eight hours. She estimates it costs about 25 cents a day to run it.

The ZENN car — Zero Emissions No Noise — is produced in Canada and gets up to 35 miles on a charge and is designed to travel 25 mph, though it apparently can be nudged to go faster. It has a plastic dent-resistant body, seat belts, disc brakes and no air bags, and is only meant to be driven in urban areas. About the size of a Mini Cooper, the car doesn't have a transmission and has limited ability to regenerate the battery through braking energy.

Saddington said her blue-green car, which has "electric" emblazoned on it, is so quiet it catches wildlife off guard.

"A deer looked startled when I went out my driveway," she said.

Saddington said her work commute is only four miles, though she logged 11 Monday because she went to the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services to get her car registered. In a year, Saddington expects to put 5,000 miles on the car.

At first, workers at the local DMV weren't sure such a car could be registered, but after doing some research gave Saddington approval.

DMV spokesman David House said low-speed, all-electric vehicles like Saddington's are rare in the state. Of the 3 million vehicles registered in Oregon, only 268 electric cars are registered and 140 are the low-speed variety.

House said 26,000 hybrids, which run on both fuel and electricity, are also registered in the state, representing less than 1 percent of the total vehicles.

The requirements for registering a vehicle include meeting U.S. Department of Transportation standards, having an original title from the manufacturer and a vehicle identification number, said House.

A lab technician at Rogue Valley Medical Center, Saddington hoped to be able to plug her car in at work so it would be fully charged and she could run errands after hours.

Even though there are plugs in the parking garage and she would be willing to pay for the electricity, RVMC hasn't endorsed the idea.

"We've been discussing it, and I've been waiting to get the green light," she said.

Recharging the car costs about 25 cents a day, she said.

Grant Walker, spokesman for the hospital, said Saddington is the first employee to make this kind of request.

"We need to think through the implications of this," he said. "We have a lot of employees."

Walker said there are potential liability issues such as someone tripping over the electric cord, and the safety record of the car has to be reviewed to see if there is any potential for fire.

The hospital will have to review the matter before making a decision and setting policy because it expects more requests of this kind in the future, he said.

At the same time, Walker said, "It's great that people are going green, and it's great we're making those kinds of decisions."

Saddington said the six lead-acid batteries, which require no maintenance, don't work as well in extreme cold or heat and will have to be replaced every three to five years at a cost of $200 each.

ZENN Motor Co. has announced plans to release another version of the car that the company claims could have a top speed of 80 mph and a range of 250 miles using more advanced batteries.

Saddington paid less than $20,000 for the car, but cheaper versions are available for about $12,000.

The higher price got her electric windows, a key fob to unlock the doors, a radio, a moon roof and other extras. The only thing Saddington didn't get was air-conditioning, but she said she might add that option this summer.

She and her husband, Mike, bought the ZENN in California, but used a trailer to bring it to Medford. The couple also have another vehicle for traveling longer distances.

Saddington said her husband is a "green" builder and she has an interest in the environment that attracted her to the ZENN.

"It's just a lifestyle choice and a change we wanted to make," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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