Shhhh: Postal carrier plugs in rather than gassing up
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Carolyn Triebenbach says she loves her all-electric Zenn -- a French coupe that costs her about 2 cents a mile to drive around Sequim. She’s hoping to sell the old Jeeps she previously drove on her rural mail route north of Sequim. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM - Slide into this driver's seat and see if you don't laugh.

Carolyn Triebenbach's new Zenn is a little French car that carries mail to 520 addresses in rural Sequim - for about 40 cents' worth of fuel.

"I giggle," when cruising through the neighborhoods, Triebenbach said.

In Zenn mode, "I sneak up on people. I sneak up on their dogs."

Zenn, you see, stands for zero emissions no noise.

This is an all-electric car that Triebenbach uses to cover her 20-mile delivery route north of Old Olympic Highway, after charging the Zenn's batteries for six to eight hours.

Triebenbach, 49, bought the silver coupe last summer from MC Electric Vehicles of Seattle for $17,600.

That's higher than the typical Zenn price of $12,600 because Triebenbach, who's worked out of the Sequim post office for 10 years, needed modifications: steering on the right-hand side, removal of the passenger seat to make room for mail.

A little weird
When this reporter piloted the Zenn across the post office parking lot, it felt a little weird.

When you give it "gas," - well, you can't, since there's no gas tank - it zips forward in near-total silence, like a new bicycle with a body around it.

The Zenn goes about 26 mph maximum, Triebenbach said - and so far, it's been ideal for her start-stop-repeat routine.

On Nov. 13, the day after a three-day weekend, she had an extra-heavy load of mail: 900 pounds of it.

By the end of the route, the Zenn was slowing down and in need of another charge, Triebenbach said.

At times like that, she plugs it in to an outlet at the post office for 20 or 30 minutes and can cover a few more miles.

"Heavy mail doesn't slow me down. It reduces my distance," before needing another charge, she said.

During the holiday season, when she has carloads of parcels, Triebenbach may have to make an extra trip back to the post office for reloading and recharging.

She's not worried about that.

"We have parcel helpers," Triebenbach said. And "it doesn't look it, but there's plenty of room in this thing."

2 cents per mile
Driving on electricity costs about 2 cents a mile, she added.

And this is no golf cart. In it, Triebenbach has everything she needs: heater, windshield wipers, stereo, cell-phone charger.

"I love my car," Triebenbach said. "And I'm liking not going to the gas station."

Rural mail carriers, who provide their own vehicles, receive a monthly allowance for maintenance.

Add that to the money she saves on gas and motor oil, and Triebenbach figures her $150 monthly car payment is covered.

And she'd recommend the Zenn to anyone.

Steve Mayeda, co-owner of MC Electric Vehicles, calls the 1,200-pound, 10-foot-long Zenn "a perfect second car."

He and the manufacturers envision an America where families own a gas car for long trips and an electric one for around town.

When the weather gets mean, Zenn drivers like Triebenbach may turn to their gas-powered vehicles, Mayeda said.

Triebenbach has an old Honda Civic and three postal Jeeps - though she's hoping to sell those gas hogs.

Zenn sales have picked up speed around the state, Mayeda said.

"We had a really good summer," he said, adding that he's sold 50 silver, sea-foam green or royal blue Zenns in the past year.

MC is one of the nation's leading electric-car dealers, he said, and owners of hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are his best customers.

"They get in it and they realize how cool it is. It's not stinky, and it's smooth and quiet," said the dealer, who drives his own Zenn around Seattle.

A new computer program has become available to make the Zenn go 35 mph, Mayeda added.

He's preparing to ship it to Triebenbach's mechanics in Sequim.

They're Robert Bowers and his grandfather Bob Holt, who run Rescue Repair behind the old Riptide restaurant at 380 E. Washington St. , in Sequim.

Bowers said working on the Zenn - his first all-electric car - has been a mind-opener.

"We had to do some learning with it," he said.

Bowers said he got good technical support from the Zenn makers, when "they e-mailed us the programs," to modify the car for Triebenbach's mail-delivery needs.

Triebenbach said her mail-carrying car is a hit with customers.

"They say, 'How cool is that?' and I say, 'It's cool,'" and then she glides off to the next mailbox, in gas-free serenity.

Sequim Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or

Last modified: November 25. 2007 9:00PM
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