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Beshear clears roads for electric car plant

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday allowing low-speed electric vehicles on some state roads in an effort to lure an electric car manufacturing plant to Kentucky.

Beshear directed the Transportation Cabinet to develop and implement a regulation authorizing the use of the vehicles on highways with a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less.

Transportation Secretary Joe Prather said the regulation should be ready in two to three months. In the meantime, the three- or four-wheeled vehicles remain illegal because they top out at speeds around 40 mph.

Beshear said he hopes the order will help Kentucky land a ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) electric car manufacturing plant that would cost more than $100 million to build and equip.

Randy Waldman, chief executive officer of Integrity Manufacturing in Bullitt County, said California-based ZAP, which now makes vehicles in China, will announce by mid-August where it wants to locate an American manufacturing facility.

He said the choice is between Kentucky and Indiana and that ZAP is looking at about six sites in Kentucky, including land in Simpson County that the company already has secured an option to buy.

The company will need about 200-plus acres and it cannot find an adequately sized site in Bullitt County for the plant, Waldman said.

The plant could be in operation by the end of 2009 and hire as many as 2,500 workers. The initial job force will be between 500 and 1,000, he said.

The electric cars use no gasoline and make no noise. A ZAP car that can seat four people costs about $11,700 and a truck that seats two runs about $12,400. The cars can go up to 45 miles on a charge that costs about 60 cents.

Beshear said administration officials are ”working very diligently“ with ZAP and Integrity Manufacturing about a possible incentive package to bring the company to Kentucky. He declined to comment on details of possible incentives.

Earlier this year, a ZAP spokesman said the company would be interested in getting the state to provide a $1,000 incentive to each consumer who buys an electric vehicle.

Asked what he thinks about that, Beshear said ”we're looking at all options.“

Some independent auto analysts say ZAP has a reputation of overpromising and under-delivering.

Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst with the economic forecasting group Global Insight, said last month that ”Kentucky politicians should proceed with caution with ZAP.“

”ZAP often makes very big promises in press releases and news conferences but has yet to prove they can deliver all they say they can,“ Bragman said. ”They've shown us a great concept, but not a good business model.“

Republican Sens. Gary Tapp of Shelby County and Dan Seum of Louisville had asked Beshear earlier this year to sign an order allowing low-speed electric vehicles on state roads.

Their request came after the legislature did not consider a measure proposed earlier this year by Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, that would have legalized the cars.

Riggs said in a statement Tuesday that he is ”definitely happy“ with Beshear's actions.

”This order effectively lines up the administration with my House Bill 243, which the House of Representatives unanimously passed in February and which the Republican leaders in the state Senate effectively blocked,“ Riggs said.

Beshear said a Transportation Cabinet review showed that the vehicles are safe under certain conditions.

He said he thinks they primarily are designed for use in cities.

More than 40 other states already allow low-speed electric vehicles on qualified roadways.