PORTLAND – Electric, three-wheeled vehicles that have appeared on some Maine roads as fuel prices soared are being curbed by Maine motor vehicle officials because they don’t qualify as motorcycles or cars.
“The ZAP is neither fish nor fowl,” said Garry Hinkley of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, referring to the California-based ZAP company, which has sold more than 700 of the Xebra models in the country.
The three-wheeled Xebras, which first appeared in 2006, seat two people, travel up to 40 mph and have a range of about 30 miles with rechargeable batteries.
The state is not refusing registration to be mean or bureaucratic, said Hinkley, but they can’t pass inspection as motorcycles in Maine because they have steering wheels instead of handlebars. And slow-speed vehicles must have four wheels to be considered for car registration.
“There are very legitimate issues of highway safety when introducing slower-speed vehicles into the traffic mix. In the interest of highway safety, we’re moving slowly,” Hinkley said.
Tom Joyal of Kennebunk said he was surprised to get a letter from the state saying it couldn’t register his Xebra. He first saw the distinctive zebra-patterned vehicle at a trade show for environmentally friendly products.
“We knew going into it that this was uncharted territory, but we knew ZAP had been doing this a long time,” Joyal told the Portland Press-Herald newspaper.
Maine motor vehicle officials have received many registration requests for vehicles such as modified snowmobiles or converted ATVs that people want to drive on the road.
Registration issues have been raised and resolved in several other states, including Montana, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Pennsylvania, ZAP spokesman Alex Campbell said. The company is still addressing issues in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Idaho. Hinkley said he expects the Legislature to address questions about registration of newer-type vehicles during its 2009 session.
ZAP manufactured the Xebra to comply with federal regulations for motorcycles, Campbell said.
“It’s strange,” Campbell said. “In some states, they roll out the red carpet for electrical vehicles. In some states, they are using any technicality they can to block it.
“Maybe it’s just that our society is trying to catch up with these ideas.”