As cars on US roads get bigger and heavier every year, going electric may just not be enough. To reclaim our cities from massive trucks and SUVs while promoting affordable and efficient electric vehicles, New York-based startup Wink Motors thinks they have the answer.
Wink just unveiled four new neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) designed for America’s streets.
They are designed to meet federal regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and are therefore street legal under the Slow Vehicle (LSV) regulations.
Phew, that’s a lot of acronyms!
LSVs are basically small electric vehicles that meet certain abbreviated safety regulations and operate at top speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph). They are legal on US roads with speed limits of up to 56 km/h.
And Wink Motors tells us it has some of the few street-legal options available in the country.
As Wink founder and CEO Mark Dweck explained:
We designed these vehicles to be the perfect miniature city car. They’re small and easy to park in tight spaces like an electric bike or motorcycle, but have fully enclosed seating for four adults and can be driven like big cars in rain, snow or other inclement weather. Because they’re electric, you never have to pay for gas or contribute to harmful emissions. And you can even charge them from the sun with the solar panels on the roof.
I’ve actually had the pleasure of watching Wink Motors grow in stealth mode over the past year and a half while providing technical advice on the vehicle designs.
While the winks aren’t fast, they do exceed the legal speed limit of 40 km/h for LSVs.
This lower speed also makes them safer and more efficient – perfect for city driving in congested urban areas where speeds rarely exceed LSV limits. You might not even be able to go 40 km/h in Manhattan!
Wink offers four vehicle models, two of which have roof-mounted solar panels to add between 10 and 15 miles (16 to 25 km) of additional range per day for outdoor parkers.
All vehicles have four seats, air conditioning and heaters, reversing cameras, a parking assist sensor, three-point seat belts, hydraulic dual-circuit disc brakes, 7kW top-of-the-line engines, safer LiFePO4 batteries, power windows and doors locks, remote key fobs, windshield wipers and many more other functions that we usually associate with cars.
But these aren’t actually “cars,” at least not in the legal sense. They are motor vehicles, but LSVs are their own classification, separate from conventional cars.
Most states still require a driver’s license and insurance, but they usually have relaxed inspection requirements and may even qualify for state tax incentives.
LSVs may not be very common yet, but several companies are already producing interesting models. We’ve seen them built for commercial applications like parcel delivery, as well as commercial and personal use, like the Polaris GEM, which recently spun off into its own company. Unlike the GEM, which is designed as an open-air vehicle similar to a golf cart, Wink’s vehicles are closed like conventional cars. And they happen to be available for less than half the price.
Wink expects to start delivering the first vehicles before the end of the year. Promotional pricing during the current launch starts at $8,995 for the 40-mile Sprout model and goes up to $11,995 for the 60-mile Mark 2 Solar model. When you consider that a new golf cart can easily cost $9,000 to $10,000, that sounds pretty reasonable. And I don’t know of any golf carts that come with air conditioning or power windows.
Of the four new Wink NEVs, the Sprout line is the entry-level model. The Sprout and Sprout Solar are both two-door models that are largely identical save for a larger battery and solar panel in the Sprout Solar model.
The upgrade to the Mark 1 gets a different body style, also with two doors but with an integrated hatchback and a folding rear seat that converts the four-seater vehicle into a two-seater with extra cargo space.
The Mark 2 Solar has a similar body to the Mark 1 but with four doors and an additional solar panel. The Mark 2 Solar has an onboard charger, although the Sprout models come with external chargers like an electric bike.
Compared to large cars, these NEVs lack the increased speed required for cross-country driving. No one is going to jump onto the Autobahn in the blink of an eye. But as a second car, to stay in town or to cruise through the suburbs, these could be just the ticket. When you consider that a new electric car can easily cost $30,000 to $40,000, a low-cost electric vehicle like this can offer many of the same benefits without the added expense.
Depending on the model, the range of the vehicles is between 40 and 60 miles (64 to 96 km).
The solar versions are said to add about a quarter to a third of the battery charge per day, depending on available sunlight.
For city dwellers who live in an apartment and park on the street, the car may never need to be plugged in as long as they only average about 10 to 15 miles (16 to 25 km) a day. Considering that my city is about 10 km wide, I see that as a real possibility.
Unlike many of today’s electric vehicles, which can weigh between 3,500 and 8,000 pounds (1,500 to 3,600 kg), Wink’s vehicles weigh between 760 and 1,150 pounds (340 to 520 kg), depending on the model. The light vehicles are therefore significantly more efficient, easier to drive and easier to park.
A 25 mph vehicle may not fit into every American’s life, but it certainly could for some.
While LSVs represent a tiny fraction of the larger electric vehicle market, their numbers are growing everywhere from cities to beach towns to retirement communities.
I recently bought an LSV pickup, although mine isn’t street legal as I did a private import from China. What was initially marketed as a $2,000 electric mini-truck in China ended up costing me nearly $8,000 after adding the larger batteries, upgrades like air conditioning and hydraulic dump bed, freight (over $3,000 alone, door-to-door), and Tariffs had taken into account/customs duties.
Dweck explained that while Wink’s vehicles are also manufactured in China, Wink had to set up an NHTSA-registered factory and work with the USDOT throughout the process to ensure full compliance. They also use multiple levels of redundant inspection to ensure manufacturing quality and have even exceeded federal safety requirements for LSVs.
Personally, I’m more of a two-wheeler type and mostly commute by electric bike or e-motorcycle.
But if I was going to need a car for the city, I’d definitely have these winks in mind.
They may not have the same charm as some of the European offerings like the Microlino. But can’t say they aren’t adorable!
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