GEM’s NEV Gets Driven


Earlier this week, I got a chance to drive a car that I’ve wanted to drive for over a decade. It’s called a GEM. It’s, basically, a glorified electric golf cart that can carry you and your friends from 0-25 MPH on public roads and in a moderate degree of comfort with absolutely zero style. It’s weird-looking, not very practical, overpriced, and (in scientific terms) stupid as Hell.

Naturally, I loved the thing.

When the GEM NEVs first started rolling off assembly lines back in 1998, gas was cheap and Hummers looked like they’d be the next best thing like, forever. If you cared about fuel economy, you were a weird hippie tree-hugger, and if you wanted an electric car, you were Ed Begley, Jr.

Just two years later, GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) was bought by Chrysler, in a move (orchestrated by Bob Lutz) that put the tiny, North Dakota company on the world’s radar. Since then, the company has changed hands a few more times, and is now owned by Polaris, who offers the GEM e4S shown here for $11,799.

So, do the little GEM’s neighborhood capabilities make it worthy of the nearly $12K asking price? Of course not! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one if you want one, however, because you will definitely giggle like a lunatic in it.


GEM Neighborhood Electric Vehicle | Fun

Governed at 25 MPH, the little GEM e4S won’t really go fast enough to get you into trouble. Even so, the little “car” felt unstable at 20, let alone 25, so you definitely have the “thrill” of pushing the envelope every time you get behind the wheel.

Similarly, the GEM I drove didn’t have much in the way of side-impact protection, and placed my face about bumper-height to a 4WD Ram truck that I happened to pull out in front of. That’s the kind of death-defying stupidity you normally have to jump out of an airplane to experience, and the GEM lets you feel that sweet combination of near-death endorphins every time you dare take it out onto public roads.


GEM Neighborhood Electric Vehicle | Practical

In terms of practicality, if you can avoid being killed by some idiot “rollin’ coal” into the side of you at an intersection, the little GEM will, in fact, deliver a fair degree of practicality. For starters, you’ll never need to buy gas for it, and it has a decent enough range to make it wholly usable in, say, Oak Park, IL or in the resort towns of Florida’s Keys and New England. In e4S configuration, the GEM will comfortable carry four adults and plenty of golf bags groceries and shopping bags in the sweet-looking stake bed out back. If it were mine, I’d opt for real, wooden stakes, but no one asked me.


GEM Neighborhood Electric Vehicle | Final Thoughts

GEM Neighborhood Electric Vehicle

Unless you can count on a stack of EV credits or you can get away without a hefty insurance bill in your state, the GEM makes absolutely no sense as “a thing to buy with real money”. That said, it is stupid, goofy fun, and I was able to pull this one right up onto the sidewalk to the few places I took it without getting any kind of grief for it (the key is to just walk out like you own the place). So, if you have the money, want something to inexpensively get you around town, and want something you can drive home today instead of the next of never, it might be for you. It’s NOT for you – but, you know, it might be, also.


Original content from Gas 2, with special thanks to Acura and the Inn at Bay Harbor hotel in Petosky, Michigan.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.