Zero-Emission Car Gets Near-Zero Response From Members

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BERKELEY, Calif.-It seemed to be a perfect setting: a credit union offering an electric car loan in a city that has a well-earned reputation as one of the most progressive, liberal and eco-friendly in the world.

ZENN Motor Co., a Toronto-based developer of zero-emission vehicles, noted that Berkeley has the highest concentration of ZENN ownership of any city in America. The company confidently declared its partnership with Cooperative Center FCU's lending program "could help make ZENN sightings a daily occurrence."

So how did Cooperative Center book only one electric car loan for $15,000?

"You can lead a horse to water...but there were some obstacles," said Debbie Crowson, marketing manager for the $83-million credit union that serves 10,735 members.

Obstacles, indeed. The ZENN Car-the name stands for Zero Emissions, No Noise-is classified as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, or NEV. According to a review on, its top speed is just 25 miles per hour and it has a range of just 35 miles on a charge. On the upside, the company notes the vehicle recharges using a standard 120-volt electric outlet in as little as four hours, has no oil to change, no emission standards to meet, no exhaust and almost no maintenance. The cost of operating a ZENN, it says, is about two cents per mile thanks to a fuel efficiency that is equivalent to 245 miles per gallon.

But its limited speed means it can't be operated on a freeway, and it is really limited to neighborhood surface streets. CCFCU did all it could to promote the ZENN car, including parking one in its lobby for months, Crowson reported.

"We saw a bunch of people looking at it. They loved the idea of an electric car, but where it went from there...I can't speak for them, they just did not come back to us for a loan. I would have thought if any city embraced it, it would have been Berkeley, but we did not get the reaction we wanted."

Green Home Improvements

Rather than packing up and quitting the green loan business, CCFCU has responded by offering a new loan to make environmentally friendly home improvements. Loan amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000, terms up to 60 months, with rates starting at 7%.

Members are eligible to receive a 1% discount on the initial rate by enrolling in auto pay and completing one of three conditions:

• Purchase all energy efficient products from Truitt and White.

• Have the energy efficient upgrades installed by Levitch & Associates.

• Have a Home Energy Audit performed by Advanced Home Energy.

Crowson said the credit union once again is giving members a visual aid in the lobby, this time in the form of a mock-up house.

"This loan is for products that can lower a home's energy bill and make it more eco-friendly," she said. "The house has an engineered wood patio that is made of plastic, skylights, recyclable insulation and dual pane windows. The display has been wonderfully received. People want to decrease their carbon footprint and save money at the same time. We have seen activity in home equity lines of credit."

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