Electric cars are being used more frequently at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. The cars run on batteries, need little maintenance and help curb pollution.

Electric cars are being used more frequently at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. The cars run on batteries, need little maintenance and help curb pollution. (Stacy A. Ouellette / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Chances are you’ve seen — and who could miss them? — small white cars with high, egg-shaped bodies and wide, bug-faced fronts on the roads at Camp Humphreys lately.

They’re low-speed, short-distance electric cars that run on a 72-volt battery, and you’ll soon see many more.

“I’d say it’s a golf cart on steroids,” said David Johnson, chief of the environmental division of the Camp Humphreys public works directorate.

They’re called “GEMs” because they’re made by Global Electric Motorcars, LLC, a Chrysler company. The firm brought out its first electric vehicle nearly 10 years ago.

“There’s a plug on the front end of the vehicle and you plug the other end into” a 110-volt outlet to recharge the battery, Johnson said. Recharge takes six to eight hours, according to the manufacturer’s literature.

The GEMs can go up to 30 miles on a charge and have a top speed of 25 mph, according to the literature. There are no tailpipe emissions.

“It reduces the amount of fuel that’s used; it reduces the air emissions from the exhaust” of vehicles that run on gas or diesel, Johnson said.

“That’s the major benefits,” he said. “There will be a cost reduction on the fact that these are fairly inexpensive to purchase.”

Johnson’s division bought four of them, and they went into service about two months ago.

He said the base price is about $8,000. With accessories, the GEMs the division are using cost about $12,000, he added.

Johnson and his staff use them to get to things like environmental compliance inspections, water sampling, meetings and other on-post “administrative” tasks.

They later “loaned” one of the four to the directorate of logistics, whose responsibilities include oversight of transportation and vehicles at the post.

“The directorate of logistics saw the utility of these vehicles,” Johnson said. “So they have ordered 25 to use for administrative purposes as well.”

Humphreys officials expect to receive the new cars soon.

That in turn will free up a lot of the regular gas-powered sedans and other nontactical vehicles Humphreys needs for other driving tasks, Johnson said.

To keep the cars ready to roll, officials will look at installing chargers at key parking spots around post.

“When we have 25 or almost 30 of them on post, we’re going to have to have some type of external charging capability,” he said. “And we’d set up special parking areas in the parking lots for nothing but electric cars.”

Johnson says the cars are a “good conversation piece.” They often draw questions from soldiers and others.

That’s given the cars the added role of “an environmental awareness type tool for my division,” Johnson said. “Everybody who sees us driving it sees that my division is doing everything they can to reduce energy and protect the environment.

“So, we’re not only talking the talk, but we’re walking the walk.”

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