The concept of an electric vehicle that can’t exceed 25 mph isn’t likely to get anyone’s heart racing, especially with that speed demon the Tesla Roadster around. But they may be on to something with the Wheego Whip.

The car is an LSV, which is short for Low-Speed Vehicle. Through federal regulations, they’re permitted on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less, but can’t exceed 25 mph. Also, known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, some, like Chrysler’s GEM, are more like glorified golf carts. But the Wheego Whip is a real enclosed car, similar in shape and concept to the Smart. For $18,995, you get a two-seater with air-conditioning, power windows, locks, four-wheel disc brakes and an MP3- and iPod-ready stereo. A federal income tax credit covers 10 percent of the purchase price.

Cars like this work for gated communities, college campuses, sprawling tech centers and resorts. According to the Christian Science Monitor, there are 40,000 already on American roads.

There’s an interesting history here. As President Jeff Boyd explains it, the company was founded (as Ruff and Tuff Products) several years ago in South Carolina, primarily making golf carts. In 2007, company head Bo Huff approached a merchant bank looking for expansion capital. One of the bank’s partners just happened to be Mike McQuary, former president of Internet provider Mindspring Enterprises (now merged with EarthLink).

McQuary liked the technology so much that he invested in it and became CEO. “I have a driveway full of electric cars,” says McQuary. “The Whip is the best electric car in the world!”

Ruff and Tuff will sell you anything from a golf cart to a camouflage-painted, four-wheel-drive hunting vehicle. The really exciting news, says Boyd, is that the Wheego part of the company will be fielding a highway-capable small car, based on the Whip, early next year. The unnamed new car with lithium-ion batteries, will have a 100-mile range. The price will be in the $24,000 range.

The Wheego Whip costs three cents a mile to operate, and the highway car shouldn’t cost much more. “Our research shows that 80 percent of commutes are under 40 miles,” Boyd says. "So if we achieve a 100-mile range with the highway car, that’s like three days of commuting, a nice place to be. Of course, the holy grail is 200 miles, which closely approximates what you can get with internal combustion.”

These electrics have an international supply chain. The chassis is made in China, and the cars are shipped to California for installation of the U.S.-made components. The first Whips will be on the road in May.

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