2007 Miles ZX40S EV

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
2007 miles zx40s ev

“So you want to drive the speed demon, huh?” The local eco-dealership was empty save for a salesman spinning laps around electric cars and trucks in a Zap Zappy, a sort of poor man’s Segway. “You know the ZX40 won’t do more than 25 miles per hour, right?” asks the sales manager. She looks as if this revelation typically scares off twenty-somethings like myself. “Sure,” I say. How bad could it be?

As we walk through the dealership, the Miles ZX40S instantly stands out from its competitors thanks to the fact that it actually looks like a car. This is no coincidence. While the Zap Xebras that crowd the lot are little more than tarted-up scooters -a fact readily admitted to by the surprisingly forthright sales manager- the Miles is based on a Chinese license-built Daihatsu Move. This means four wheels, four doors, trunk space and “real” suspension- features which make this model so popular among EV early-adaptors.

In fact, the Miles ZX40S is so popular that I was only able to test drive the outgoing model. Its DC motor offers less hill-climbing ability and lacks the regenerative braking that makes its AC-powered replacement model fly off the lots. But a brand-new ZX40S is listed at $20k (if you can find one before it sells), while this outgoing model is on “internet special” for $14,999. For that money you get such “real car” amenities as a CD player and foglamps.

But it doesn’t take long to realize that as “real cars” go, Chinese-built Daihatsu Moves barely pass muster. The body is remarkably like a smaller (yep!) Mk1 Scion xB, with room for four adults and a surprising sense of spaciousness. Inside though, “cheap-and-cheerful” doesn’t begin to describe the Wal-Mart-grade upholstery and interior materials.

The “straight out of Tianjin” impressions continue as you struggle to make your seatbelt work and jiggle the ignition switch endlessly. The surprisingly unembarrassed sales manager had just concluded that she had grabbed the wrong key when the toylike LCD display finally lit up.

Any of the ZX40S’s similarities to a “real car” are quickly proven coincidental by its performance. Though its internals can haul it to 45 mph, federal legislation electronically limits the Miles to a sedate 25 mph. Flip the dash-mounted toggle switch transmission to its single “forward” gear and mash the throttle, and the ZX40S pulls away from the dealership with the urgency of a well-laden golf cart.

On quiet residential roads, the ZX40S is in its element. Roll down the window, crank up whale songs on your CD player and you could cruise for hours (well, 50 miles if you’re lucky), blanketing the neighborhood with zero-emission smug. There’s plenty of throttle travel to ease comfortably into the 17.6 peak kilowatts, and additional passengers eliminate any chance of a snappy power response.

When egged on by the sales manager to “open ‘er up” on Portland’s Sandy Boulevard, the I got the ZX40S to hit a federal-law-flouting 28 mph. This prompted a round of jokes about Justice Department investigations and the dangers of high speeds, not all coming from me. My minder expressed frustration at the onerous Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) laws, pointing out that states are repealing them. When asked about the federal laws which trump state deregulation, all I got was a vague “Miles is working on that.” Questions about a planned $30k, highway-capable EV sedan get the same answer.

But despite the ZX40S’s many shortcomings and the wide variety of far more capable vehicles available for $15-20k, the Miles is selling. While Xebras sit, unloved and unloveable. If the speed regulator and weak-sauce range aren’t enough to turn you away, the Miles does everything an LSV should. It’s got a flexible design with space for a small family, and it exudes an undeniable quirky charm.

But take care not to take on the ZX40S’s eco-friendly compromises too lightly. Buy one and you will be constantly reminded of your dedication to environmental sustainability. Like, whenever you try to buckle your seatbelt. Or spend five minutes trying to start the thing. Or watch your interior rattle itself apart at 25 mph.

The bottom line is that it will never match similarly-priced (or cheaper) “real cars” like the Fit or Yaris in quality, performance or usability. If your mantra is “earth first” rather than “pocketbook first,” the ZX40S may be your best bet.

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2 of 24 comments
  • Casual Observer Casual Observer on Dec 04, 2008

    I have a John Deere Gator that can go 30 mph. Five gallons of diesel will run it for about 12 hours. It can haul a half-ton, plow the driveway, and go anywhere you point it. And it costs less than 10 grand.

  • Rev Junkie Rev Junkie on Dec 15, 2008

    20k for a car-based golf cart? Why would any greenie buy this when they could get a used Prius, their favorite "green"-mobile? Hell, I have a '99 Civic that I got for $5300, and the remaining $14,700 could be used in fuel for the next five or six years.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.