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Ohio Regulations Stymie EV Sales

The Plain Dealer. The state of Ohio has pulled the title and registration of the first three-wheeled ZAP Xebra sold there because the vehicle doesn’t meet the definition of any kind of road-sanctioned vehicle in the state.

About six weeks after [Alan Fuller] got his pickup from a dealer in Chicago, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Columbus sent Fuller a letter telling him to send the title back. His Xebra wasn’t fit for Ohio roads.

...The key issue was the Xebra’s motorcycle status. Federal regulators defines a motorcycle as any motorized vehicle with three or fewer wheels and a saddle or a seat. Ohio law says a motorcycle has to have a saddle.

With a traditional car seat, the BMV ruled that the Xebra wasn’t a motorcycle. It also wasn’t a car or anything else. It couldn’t be titled for use on Ohio roads.

...Simply changing the state’s interpretation of a saddle won’t solve the problem, [Josh Engel, chief legal counsel for the BMV] said. If the state allows Xebra and NmG owners to register vehicles as motorcycles, drivers would have to get motorcycle endorsements on their licenses.

“That means for the first year you’re driving, you’d be considered provisional and you’d have to wear a helmet inside the vehicle,” he said.

The ruling has already had a chilling effect on the sale of electric vehicles in Ohio.

(A hat-tip to Robert!)



Just classify them as "disabled person transport" - just like the noisy, polluting 2-stroke engine probelled, licence free "submicrocars" down here in europe - As they are neither classified as car nor as motorcycle, they don't have to adhere to any kind to emissions regulations (including noise pollution), nor is it necessary to have any kind of driver's licence to operate them....

It's said these vehicles are very popular with people who lost their driving licence because of being caught driving drunk... (And from the way these vehicles are operated, most of the drivers don't abstain from drinking...)


Max Reid


Its a proper 4-seater vehicle. Whats wrong with it.
Just because it happened to run on batteries, the State pulls it off.

Shame that even in the face of $3.60 gas, the EV's are discouraged. Time of gas-guzzlers are running out.


It's not just Ohio. Here in northern San Diego county, if I were to buy a ZENN EV, I could drive it all around my neighborhood and to the stores within it, but I wouldn't be allowed to drive it to work. So California is unfriendly to EVs also.


BS, malarky and tripe!! You guys think these buggies qualify for street legal status? Canada won't certify Zenn on its roads but Santa Monica will. Huh? The problem here is these are NOT EVs of the caliber we need until they can meet certain safety measures. Look, some guy gets whacked by a bus in his Zap, the evening news is filled with bloody wreck footage and a big stink about how these vehicles are meat wagons. Right there you have a multi-million dollar PR failure. The buzz grows, "EVs are death traps jeopardizing everyone on the road." It'll take ten years to fix that.

You want these "EVs" on the streets? Make 'em safe. States and NHTSA should NOT certify these vehicles except for specific low speed areas until they can demonstrate a reasonable margin of safety for passengers and those around them. Get real.


It is just part of the plan to force 3 wheeled vehicles to follow the same regulations as passenger cars and stifle innovation in a time of need. Why not ban all motorcycles as unsafe too! I don't think anyone would expect a Zap to be as safe as a regular pasengen car. The Ohio legistature is is the hands of the automotive companies just like Michigans!


While my emotional aversion to these cars is not quite as strong as sulleny's, I will say that I am not all that interested in buying one of these cars. For starters, they are horribly ugly, and they don't meet crash standards. If I wanted a death trap, I'd just buy a motorcycle. Anyway, why on earth can't they just stick another wheel on these things so that they can be classified as regular cars? This would make them look a lot more appealing too. I think I will wait for a real, four-wheeled 60mph electric car, which I don't think is that far off.


My electric bike travels thru my Washington state town with 1/700th the pollution of an ICE...& none of that pollution inside town. Whereas, many Americans abhor small vehicles, those same Americans don't mind their very own children breathing ICE fumes that lower lung & heart health, & even kill children who are long exposed to freeway toxic emissions.

It is good that you hate small vehicles for their higher deathrates. But you should hate big vehicles more for killing people in small vehicles & also hate big vehicles for killing children with their toxic fumes.



Ever been to India? Vehicles ranging from pedestrians (can't really call them a vehicle I s'pose) to bicycles to rickshas to autos to big smoke billowing transport trucks share the road. Most of the smaller vehicles don't have much safety equipment. My trip to India caused me to think that we in America may have overdone the safety thing. We may have become a bit too risk averse.


What bugs me about this story is the painfully anally retentive, narrow minded and myopic view of these vehicles by jokers who give bureaucrats their reputation. If it's a motorcycle, make people get motorcycle licenses. On a vehicle as flimsy as a Xebra extra traffic safety training and defensive driving is required anyway, just as it is on a motorcycle.

If the idiots want a "saddle", strap one to the roof.

Henry Gibson

These vehicles are far far safer than a bicycle. They should be classified as three or even four wheel bicycles. Europe had a classification of motor assisted bicycles if the engines were under 50 cc displacement but you had to have liability insurance. What needs to be done is to simply create an insurance class. The statistics needed can come from europe. Pedestrians and bicyclists already have special legal protections on the road why can't these have an intermediate class.

Brian P

I don't dispute that here in North America, "safety" regulations in general has gone way, way overboard and we are collectively too risk averse. BUT ...

Three wheeled vehicles need to have a very low center of gravity in order to be stable. All of the ones that I have seen that appear decently stable (example, Can-Am Spyder recently introduced by Bombardier) have two wheels in front, and no enclosing structure around the rider, and fit Ohio's definition of a motorcycle (and everywhere else), and appropriately require a motorcycle license to operate.

This Zap thing brings horrible memories of the (British-built) Reliant Robin, a vehicle that will overturn if you breathe on it the wrong direction. Unstable 3 wheeled vehicles don't belong on public roads. Whether it is "electric" or "green" or whatever has nothing to do with it. If they want to make a serious road vehicle then make it conform to the standards of whatever vehicle class they choose, and don't make it a magnet for lawyers!



It is not just we in America, the Canadian government has repeatedly refused to issue certification to their native son company Zenn on safety issues. And if we have become so risk averse should we retract safety equipment and watch the numbers of dead and maimed accident victims rise? You want to accept the insurance payments for those actions? And will you go to the members of MADD and tell them we're too risk averse and are raising the BAL numbers nationwide?

In this case we're not so risk averse as we are trying to get our way without following the "rules."



Certainly relaxing safety regulations would result in products that could cause more injury.

Do I think that America will go in the direction of relaxing safety standards? No. We're too litigious.

Do I think that America SHOULD go in that direction? I dunno. Individual transportation is the model of this country for now and the immediate future. Smaller, lighter vehicles improves fuel economy. Making them lighter MIGHT mean taking off the gadgets that are designed to improve safety.

Would I stand before a crowd of maimed accident victims and tell them we're relaxing our regulations? Well, if that's what America decided was the way forward, then Yes, I would.


I think vehicles like those from Zap are a double edged sword. On the one hand their hearts are in the right place and they're advancing the technology. On the other, vehicles like the Xebra line really reinforce bad stereotypes about how EV's look and now also their safety. Zap is on the right track with its Lotus-based Zap-X for 2010, but in this case it looks like they tried to base a business model on a loophole and Ohio called them on it.

They have to compete with traditional ICE vehicles on an even playing field for the EV transition to happen, and three wheeled semi-cars aren't going to cut when it comes to going mainstream.



"Well, if that's what America decided was the way forward, then Yes, I would."

However, the question was would YOU support your claim that we're too risk averse??

Dave K.

My friend has a Xebra and I also know people with Sparrows(elecric 3 wheeler), they are really quite stable and certainly safer than a motorcycle. I think singling them out and not taging them is unacceptable, if people chose to drive such a vehicle it should be allowed. A moped is certainly worse on all accounts.
Interestingly Meyers Motors, the current builder of the NMG/Sparrow is in Ohio, a state wracked with high unemployment.


Mr. Sulleny

My remarks must have hit a nerve. For that I apologize. There was no malicious intent.

Tell ya what. Let me know if you are planning to attend the hybrid fest in Madison, WI on the weekend of July 19th. Maybe we can have an in-depth discussion over a beer.



Sounds like fun. Thank you for the invite - I would enjoy the beer AND conversation!

chris burns


chris burns

My name is chris and i work at GM. Its like this folks the car companys do not want to be over run by little ev companys. If ev's were all over, the american car industry would be finished. Anyone know how much money was invested by the car companys to produce hybrids? You will not see ev's here in ohio any time soon i promise that. By the way the three wheel cars with the regular car seats that are battery powered that the police drive here in ohio where is the saddle?

We went from horses to cars i would say that was a bigger saftey risk.Do you stop progress for saftey? We never have.


It is time for the public and the government to get on the same page. The pollution controls that California has pushed off on the country are making things worse, not better. A 1986 Chevy Sprint got around 50 MPG and put out just over 4 tons of carbon a year. The 2006 Chevy Aveo got around 32 MPG and put out over 7 tons. Problem is, they are the same car, the Suzuki Swift. How has 20 years of progress reduced a car's mileage by 20 MPG and almost doubled it's pollution output? It's simple, you cannot restrict a motor with a ton of supposedly cleaner equipment, without adversely affecting it's performance.

If Ohio is going to be so blind as to be part of the problem, instead of part of the solution and not help it's residents save money and afford to live, then maybe it's time to move to a state that is a little more forward thinking. As for California, thanks for being so screwed up that you manage to make pollution worse and cause us to waste more fuel at the same time. How about a little less Sci-Fi and a little more reality, OK Cali?

Chris Burns is right about the three wheelers the police and local governments use. They have a seat and yet they are allowed on the road. I saw one of these at the post office and went home to see about a similar vehicle for myself, but with 2 wheels in front and one in back. The Tango looked perfect for me and I tried to check insurance rates at Progressive for these 200cc and 300cc vehicles. They don't have a rate plan for them and have no information making it seem as if they will be getting one, either.

Ohio Republicans, Democrats and Independents need to get off their butts and demand smaller vehicle options, real representation, instead of the blame game they are all into now. We need help now, not after the election. We need alternatives now, not after gas hits $10.00 a gallon. We need some economic relief now, not when we have all lost our homes, jobs and lives...

Wake up Ohio! Fix the three wheel motorcycle laws, push for cleaner vehicles with higher mileage, stop pointing fingers and start fixing the situation...

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