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Laura Aiken   

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The first street legal low-speed electric car

The first street legal low-speed electric car on Quebec streets was
purchased by Chic Alors!, a gourmet pizzeria owned by Hugh Philippin.

The first street legal low-speed electric car on Quebec streets was purchased by Chic Alors!, a gourmet pizzeria owned by Hugh Philippin.


In February, Philippin started delivering his pizzas to neighbouring homes in a ZENN, a 100 per cent electric vehicle whose name stands for Zero Emission No Noise.

“It’s really satisfying to know that you have not used a single drop of gasoline,” says Philippin, adding that it costs about a dollar to charge. So far, no one on deliveries has run out of power.


The limiter taps the car out at 44 kilometres per hour, which Philippin points out is not much below the 50 kilometres per hour on most residential routes. Although he says it’s a “bit of a drag” on major streets, the benefits outweigh that and it hasn’t slowed down delivery times. 

“You don’t have the kids careening about in residential areas with the name of your business on the side of the car. It’s a good social image.”

 The car is assembled in Saint-Jerome, north of Montreal. Philippin bought his ZENN as part of a pilot project launched in 2008 by Quebec’s Ministry of Transport and the Société d’assurance automobile to test low-speed vehicles, or LSVs, on Quebec roads. Philippin had been following ZENN for years, a company who had been selling its LSVs in the U.S. because they weren’t street legal in Quebec, despite being assembled there. Philippin sent letters to MPs questioning why they weren’t legal and got answers back, including an invitation to participate in the pilot project.

The base price of the car was $16,900, which he says came to about $18,000 plus tax after options such as battery warmers, winter tires and a radio were tacked on. The last provincial budget gave him a $4,000 tax credit back on the car.

The car has proven to be practical for Philippin. It’s used after 5 p.m., which makes it simple to charge the car overnight. You can get 80 per cent of the power back from a four-hour charge, and then the last 20 per cent over four more hours. He has found that you lose charge faster in cold weather, getting about 40 kilometres of driving from one charge compared to 60 to 80 in the summer months. ZENN is low maintenance, without the need for brake pads or oil changes. Philippin used it at home first for errands, and says he found you could actually load quite a bit into it. The car is powered by an ultra capacitor built by a Texas company called EEstor. This ultra capacitor acts as an electric storage device, not a battery, and can store energy created by solar or wind, too.

“With customers, a lot of them love it. They come out and want to take a look at it. Generally everybody is really happy for us,” he says, adding that people enjoy supporting that it’s assembled locally as well.

“It’s a fun car to drive. It’s really cute. I was thinking the drivers would get tired of it but they still pick the electric car first.”

The car is street legal for anyone participating in the Quebec government program, as long as they follow the terms and conditions of the test project. This means the government can stop the pilot at any time and the car wouldn’t be legal on the roads anymore. The project will conclude in 2011, when it will be determined if the LSV should be street legal for good. It is not legal in Ontario, where CBC recently reported that the LSV car makers found the regulations determined by the government for a pilot program were too strict.

ZENN is planning to bring a full-speed electric car to market that will hit 125 kilometres per hour, with commercial availability anticipated for 2010.

Philippin runs a full-service restaurant with the majority of his business being in house dining. He grew to that stage from a take-out/delivery only store, and says Chic Alors! will be moving into a new customized location three times larger than its current home in late 2009. The restaurant was established in 1991 at 955, Jean-Gauvin St. in Quebec City. Chic Alors! is known for its quality and refined pizzas prized at culinary competitions in New York and Las Vegas in 2007.

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