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A revolution in our own back yard

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Sonoma County, California is such a peaceful and laidback place that hardly anything news worthy happens here, except of course the Rat Man (a man lived with over 1000 rats, I kid you not!) and the Zombie chickens (some spent chickens destined to become compost clawed out their grave and lived happily ever after). But quietly, a revolution is brewing right in our back yard - the clean car revolution that is.

As global warming becomes a hot issue and gas prices skyrocket past what anyone could imagine five years ago, people are coming up with more and more innovative ways to conserve gas, curb pollution and use alternative fuel. This sparks a lot of interests in electric cars, flex-fuel cars and other environment-friendly automobiles.

Santa Rosa, California based ZAP (www.zapworld.com), a leader in production and distribution of "green" vehicles, has a showroom right across from the downtown shopping mall. Stepping into ZAP's showroom is like stepping into the future. Take for example the Brazilian made eye-popping green and orange car, the Obvio! Besides its cute look, the so-called flex-fuel car runs on gas or ethanol or any combination of the two, giving you maximum flexibility.

Unlike fossil fuels that we will eventually run out, ethanol is a renewable fuel. It can be made out of sugarcane and other vegetative materials such as corn, wheat or even switch grass. Using ethanol will cut our dependency on foreign oil and reduce air pollution. With 40 mpg, the Obvio also has much better fuel economy than most of the gas-guzzlers we see on streets.

Another, the funky looking Chinese made ZAP XEBRA, has bypassed gas all together and runs on 100 percent electricity. Powered by a battery pack and an onboard charger, the XEBRA can run up to 40 mph and 25 miles per charge, not fast enough for the highway but perfect as a city or resort car. The XEBRA is in a class by itself. It is quiet, agile and clean. According to ZAP, XEBRAs produce 98 percent fewer pollutants than gas cars and cost their owners a mere 3 cents a mile. With a price tag of $10,000, being green does not have to hurt your wallet.

For those that are still irreversibly attached to gasoline, the ZAP Smart Car might just be the way to go. If you have seen the movie "The Da Vinci Code," you will definitely remember the car chasing scenes. The tiny two seater Smart Car driven by French agent Sophie Neveu navigated the narrow alleys of Paris near Musée du Louvre with ease and grace and left the bulky police cars in the dust. Built by Mercedes-Benz and Americanized by ZAP, the Smart Car (only 2.5 meters long) is quite nimble for traversing in a city's congested streets, finding parking spaces, and conserving fuel. With a top speed of 85 mph, it can even go on the highway. The Smart Car has already become quite popular in Europe: I saw several of them when I was in London and Vienna.

The ZAP showroom in downtown Santa Rosa features a collection of energy-efficient vehicles with creative and futuristic designs. For teenagers who are pondering their first car or anyone who are curious about the cars in future, ZAP is well worth visiting. How cool would it be to be the first person driving a Smart Car in your school? Alright, maybe not that cool. But you would definitely get a lot of attention.





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