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Zenn, EEStor detail plans for highway-capable electric car

The CityZenn will hit a top speed of 80 miles per hour--but more importantly, it will be rechargeable in five minutes.

Toronto's Zenn Motors has laid out its plans for a freeway-legal car, and on paper it looks pretty good.

The CityZenn will hit a top speed of 80 miles per hour (or a 125 kilometers per hour as they insist on saying in Canada) but more importantly, it will be rechargeable in five minutes. That's an astounding breakthrough: Lengthy charge times have been one of the many reasons that electric cars have yet to go mainstream. Cars powered by lithium-ion batteries need a few hours to fully charge.

Electra glide in silver. Zenn Motors

Zenn's car will be powered by an energy storage unit from secretive EEStor. EEStor has built an ultracapacitor that stores electrons better than a battery, the company claims. The company has said its component can also power electric cars for longer distances than batteries. Few people, however, have been able to test the company's technology, and EEStor has had to endure some delays. The secrecy and other factors have made some skeptical of EEStor.

The CityZenn comes out in the fall of 2009. While it will sell for a premium over similar gas cars, it will be affordable for mainstream buyers, the company says. Most likely it will come out in Europe first and the U.S. later. Zenn is expected to get its first samples of EEStor's energy storage units this year. Zenn is also an investor in the company.

Both Zenn and EEStor will collaborate to sell drive trains that will let car owners convert their gas-burners to running on electric.

Now for the qualifiers. EEStor may face further delays. Zenn will have to jump through several regulatory hurdles to get its cars on the road, so initial sales may be pushed past the fall 2009 goal.

Zenn, along with Tesla and a few others, has been one of the more realistic electric car companies. The company currently sells low-speed electric vehicles which get used as fleet cars on army bases and university campuses. The picture included here is a shot of its latest low-speed vehicle. CEO Ian Clifford has said that technical challenges have been one of the reasons electric cars aren't driving around in huge numbers on the streets today. (He doesn't talk about oil company conspiracies.) In other words, the company has a track record of actually selling vehicles and not overpromising.

So we shall wait and see. Either way, 2009 will be a huge year for electric cars. Tesla will be in mass production of its Tesla Roadster by then and will be starting to come out with (or finishing up) its Whitestar sedan. Tesla will make an all-electric and plug-in hybrid version of Whitestar. General Motors will be one year away from the Volt. And Fisker Automotive will start producing its sporty plug-in hybrid, the Fisker Karma.