The license plate reads, “EPOWER.”
Most appropriate, because electricity is what powers Carmen Schrock-Hurst’s primary source of transportation, a bright red GEM car, nicknamed “Ladybug.”
GEM stands for Global Electric Motorcars (www.gemcar.com), a Chrysler company located in Fargo, N.D., that is turning out a fleet of battery-operated small vehicles for persons who want to “drive green.”
The miniature motorcar is permitted on public roads as a “low-speed vehicle.” It requires license, registration and insurance, and while it accelerates quickly, its top speed is 25 miles per hour, putting it out of synch with high-speed interstate and other major highway traffic.
In fact, the minuscule motorcar is restricted to thoroughfares with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour and under, but that’s alright with Carmen.
Carmen’s primary occupation – in addition to household executive, mother of three and supportive spouse to Luke M. Schrock-Hurst – is coordinator of volunteer programs at Rockingham Memorial Hospital’s Hospice, where she’s worked for three years. As of March 1 this year, she’s also co-pastor with her husband at Immanuel Mennonite Church in northeast Harrisonburg. They’re also hosting a Korean exchange student this year, a senior at Eastern Mennonite High School.
Carmen has been principal driver of the GEM car since acquiring it three years ago in April from a couple who brought it east from California.
“I love it,” Carmen says without hesitation. “It’s fun to drive, and it gets me practically anywhere I want to go – the four miles to my work on Stone Spring Road, grocery shopping at Red Front, to pick up son Caleb at EMHS. Certain roads I just avoid because of the speed limitations.”
Her car is “safer than a scooter or moped,” she insists. “There’s more protection, from the weather and animals that can dart out of nowhere, and it has a roll bar, safety glass, turn signals and headlights for night driving. It seats two persons comfortably and has a decent-size trunk.
The vehicle is plugged into a regular outlet overnight and draws no more electricity than a computer. It goes about 25 miles on eight-hour charge. The batteries last 3-5 years.
One drawback, however – there’s no heater, air conditioning or radio, although these can be installed, along with numerous other options at additional cost. The canvas sides can be rolled back in warm weather.
She recalls the time a police officer pulled her over because the car didn’t have an inspection sticker; none is required.
Last spring, son Lucas and his date, both wearing formal attire with Superman capes, made their grand entrance at the EMHS junior-senior banquet in the GEM car.
The Schrock-Hursts lived in the Philippines three years, so her GEM car seems like a logical extension of the ways they got around there – on trikes (motorcycles with side cars about the size of the GEM) and public transportation. She says that she sometimes “feels like a celebrity. People come up to me constantly asking all kinds of questions. Little kids especially seem to love it.”
The license plate, “EPOWER,” wasn’t chosen to make a statement about energy conservation but rather to answer questions about what kind of a car it is,” she notes, “but it does, regardless.”
She believes that the widespread interest shown in the vehicle is an indicator “that people are hungry for alternatives to the many gas-guzzling vehicles on the road.
“I believe that many families could manage quite well with one larger vehicle and a GEM car,” she states.
“I have no regrets with my Ladybug,” Carmen says emphatically. “I’d go out and buy one again.”
And she wishes other people would, too.
– Column by Jim Bishop