Getting a charge out of a new car

As the price of gas continued to climb over the summer, it started to get to Stephen Johnson. The Marathon resident drove a Chevy S10, and it cost big bucks to fill the pickup’s tank.

So Johnson decided to take action: He went shopping. He took a look at the Zap Xebra parked in front of Sea Air Land Technologies and decided it was the vehicle of his future.

The Xebra is a plug-in electric vehicle, a miniature pickup built on a three-wheel motorcycle frame. If the design doesn’t get people’s attention, surely the color will. Johnson’s choice was green — a fake key lime pie shade of green. It contrasts nicely with his home; Johnson lives and works at Hawks Nest, the pink condominium complex on the oceanside of the Seven Mile Bridge.

Better known as SALT, Marathon-based Sea Air Land Technologies specializes in alternative power systems for marine and home use. Co-owners Bob Williams and Chuck Meier started offering the Xebra and an electric scooter called the Vectrix for sale in August, when gas prices were nearing their peak. Johnson was their first buyer.

The Xebra is powered by deep-cycle lead acid batteries and can travel up to 40 mph with a range of 25 miles. Buyers also have the option to purchase a solar panel cover for the truck bed to charge the vehicle when not in use.

The Vectrix scooter, on the other hand, can go up to 62 mph, with a range of 20 to 65 miles depending on speed. Earlier this month, SALT added the GoPet, a three-wheeled standup electric scooter that can go 16 mph, to their offerings.

All three vehicles can be charged at any standard outlet. SALT’s new location, 2992 Overseas Highway, is also an electric car charging station, so Johnson and other electric vehicle owners are welcome to stop by any time to plug in.

Even with its limited range and speed, the SALT crew sees the Xebra as an environmentally sustainable option for tooling around town. And that’s just what Johnson said he plans to do; for trips off the rock, he’ll use his S10.

With taxes, fees, tags and insurance, Johnson said the Xebra set him back about $17,000. Shopping for insurance turned out to be a challenge. Several companies didn’t know what to make of what he was buying; one wanted to charge him several thousand dollars.

Johnson was unfazed by the reappearance of cheap gas. Sure, prices are down now, he said, but who knows how long that will last? Besides, it’s not just about economy at the gas pump.

The Xebra is a fun, economical vehicle with a small carbon footprint, he said. And that carbon footprint — roughly the amount of carbon dioxide generated directly or indirectly by your lifestyle — is something that concerns the 15-year Keys resident.

“I think we all need to worry about it,” Johnson said. “We all need to do what we can.”

For more information on electric vehicles in Marathon, contact SALT at 289-1150.