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Going green in Lake Park

Regina Johnson watches Monday as her husband, Randy, uncrates a new Zapino moped, one of the electric vehicles manufactured by ZAP.1 / 2
Regina Johnson stands with two of the ZAP pickup trucks, electric vehicles that are now being sold out of Market Street Tire Co. under the business name Midwest Voltage Express.2 / 2

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- Like something reminiscent of the futuristic "Jetsons" cartoon, Randy and Regina Johnson unplug their truck before heading off to work each day at Market Street Tire Co. in Lake Park.

The Johnsons are the first in the Midwest to sign a contract and get approved as a dealership with ZAP, a company that makes all electric sedans, trucks, mopeds and scooters.

"The next closest dealership is in Chicago, Illinois," Regina said.

Currently, their inventory has six of the pickup trucks, several mopeds and a batch of the Zappy 3 scooters, a three-wheeled vehicle that can travel up to 12 mph.

"These don't cost hardly anything to run," Randy said, uncrating the newly arrived Zapino moped. "You just plug in and go."

Market Street Tire Co., which has been in business for 25 years in Lake Park, will celebrate with an open house from 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with a meal from 5 to 7 p.m.

"It's also a soft opening for Zap," Regina explained. "ZAP will have a full-blown open house in November."

ZAP, which stands for Zero Air Pollution, makes a line of scooters, the pickup, a sedan, and will even be turning out a sports car model in the near future. Electric ATVs and outboard motors are also available.

The scooters will go 18 to 25 miles on a charge, and the pickup will go 30 to 40 miles. An extended-charge version of the pickup is also available that will go 45 to 55 miles. To recharge the battery if it is down to no capacity takes six to eight hours.

"You can plug it in to any 110-volt outlet," Regina said. "It costs about 60 cents to charge it to full capacity."

The pickups and sedans hustle along at speeds up to 45 mph and are licensed as motorcycles, but a motorcycle endorsement is not needed to drive a ZAP because they are enclosed. A variety of extras are available on the vehicles, such as a trickle- down solar panel or extended battery.

The trucks come with leather seats, but the sedans have either leather or cloth interior. The vehicles have a heater, an AM/FM stereo with a CD player, headlights and crank windows. Air conditioning is not an option, as it would draw to much electricity, but a cooling fan can be added. The sedan has four doors and a back hatch, and the seats recline down. On the pickup, the box dumps and each side of the box can be let down individually.

The vehicles come in a variety of bright colors including blue, green and red, and also come in a zebra-striped pattern.

"They are made to be consumer friendly and cost efficient," Regina stated. "They are very basic, so you don't have a lot of maintenance."

It was maintenance that got the Johnsons involved in electric vehicles in the first place. Regina's father had an electric car built in 1980 that needed some maintenance such as a brake job, so he brought it to Randy.

"That is when Randy got interested," Regina explained. "We checked out five different companies and this one impressed us the most."

While out in California to watch their son graduate from Marine Corp boot camp, the couple attended a ZAP training session. While Regina was learning about licensing, sales and what is involved, Randy was attended a technical training program, learning to maintain the electric vehicles.

"We're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot, because they don't need oil changes and transmission work, which we do here at Market Street Tire," Regina laughed. "But we'll still have brake jobs."

The ZAP end of the business in Lake Park gets its own name -- Midwest Voltage Express.

Most people who consider buying a ZAP think they will use it as a second or third vehicle, Regina said, but end up using it more than they think. The Johnsons plan to keep one of the trucks for the tire shop, adding an air tank in the back.

"We are spending $900 a month in fuel for our service trucks and company vehicles," Regina said. "We'll never get away from gas completely, but we live two blocks from here, so it works perfect to drive the ZAPs."

On the Zappy 3 scooters, Randy and Regina raced down to Jaycox recently.

"They are just fun," she laughed, but didn't mention who won the race. "I anticipate we will own a scooter and moped for our own transportation, and I think I will end up with a sedan."

The electric vehicles are being used on campuses, at airports, and as delivery vehicles for everything from pizza to packages in metropolitan areas, Regina said. They are surprisingly spacious inside, so much so that 6-foot, 3-inch Randy is comfortable and has head room. The vehicles are quiet, very stable, and have seat belts and tempered glass for safety.

"I am totally impressed with them myself," Regina said. "I love the mobility, and I really like not having to fill up with gas."

"They really are something different," Randy added.

The Johnsons invite people to stop in at Market Street Tire and check out the vehicles or take one our for a test drive. The Johnsons can be reached at the tire store at (712) 832-9563.