Meet the 'Poor Man's Better Place'

While Better Place's plan to popularize electric cars is getting all the attention abroad, another Israeli company has created an electric vehicle that could make a more immediate impact on the urban transportation market.

While Better Place's plan to popularize electric cars is getting all the attention abroad, another Israeli company has created an electric vehicle that could make a more immediate impact on the urban transportation market.

"We are the poor man's Better Place," says Ori Duek one of the two Israeli entrepreneurs behind Green Motors International, a young Israeli company that specializes in the development and manufacture of electric scooters.

The first GMI product to hit the market, Runner, is a small electric scooter that is assembled in the Automotive Industries' factory in Upper Nazareth, the same factory that produces the much better known Storm 3 Jeep.

Most of the Runner's constituent parts are made in China and France – mostly China – before being shipped to Israel for assembly. 

On paper it sounds like a wonderful transportation solution. The scooter's purchase price is NIS 9,000 (close to $2,250) and its travel radius is 40 kilometers. Full charging time for the device is between four and five hours and can be done using a regular household outlet. The cost of a full charge, taking into account current Israeli electricity prices, is just NIS 1.2. Add to these advantages the benefit of not having to find parking or get stuck in traffic.

But what’s it like on the road? We took the Runner for a test spin on the big city streets and this is what we learned.

Rise in gas prices? Not your problem

The scooter's frame is made from steel tubes. If you're thinking of a sexy tubular frame of the type found in the Ducati, think again.  The tubes that comprise the Runner's frame bear a closer resemblance to the water pipes in an old Tel Aviv apartment.

The general finishing on the Runner is very basic and outdated, something you’d expect from China or even the former Soviet Union. For example, the main headlight bobs up and down freely and exposed screws protrude from every direction. The suspension doesn't work very well and the wheels are small. On potholed highways the scooter's ride is torture on your vertebrae.

The Runner, like its name suggests, likes to run. Revving the throttle gives a powerful as the scooter lurches forward with a burst of energy. This is worse than it sounds.

In practice, the rider finds it difficult to tightly control the amount of power the engine generates.  It's true that it is the nature of electric motors to provide all their torque already at zero rotations per minute.  But still, the vehicle's electronic controls system must undergo some drastic improvements.

The Runner's battery is of the standard silicon gel variety. The electric motor provides the equivalent of two horsepower. The scooter reaches a maximum speed of approximately 70 kph (about 40 mph). It has no problem keeping up the pace of traffic in the city – and that's important from a safety perspective.

An entire month's travel in the city on a Runner scooter reaches approximately NIS 20 in fuel costs, but then you must add insurance costs and these can reach roughly NIS 200 a month, varying with the age, experience and driving history of each individual driver.

Israel's first electric-powered scooter has many downsides, but not everything is bleak.  There is some real charm in travelling with an electric vehicle. Appreciate the absolute silence and lack of rattling vibrations of an electric motor. Also don't forget the satisfaction of knowing you’ve beaten the system and no longer need to pull into a gas station on your journey. Rise in gas prices? Not your problem.

The electric revolution has already begun. In a few more years, a vehicle emitting exhaust will appear as anachronistic as vinyl records or a rotary phone.

 A scooter is a vehicle more logically adapted to electric power than a large car like the Renault Fluence Z.E., which is being imported by the company Better Place. The primary problem with electric vehicles at the moment is their battery life and thus, limited travel radius, but this problem doesn’t exist with intra-city driving.

The bottom line, though, is that I do not recommend purchasing the Runner. It's a first-of-a-kind product that's still too rough around the edges and not entirely cooked. Wait until the next generation offspring, and then buy the newer version without hesitation.

Pros: It's an electric vehicle with low fuel costs.

Cons: Chinese/Soviet-style finishing

Bottom-line: Wait for the next generation of electric scooters.