In the near future electrical powered light vehicles such as bicycles would be more practical for short trips, than electrical powered autos. In a world of increasing gasoline prices, electrical bikes represent a lower cost transportation option for every day errands. Many of my personal errands involve round trips of less than 5 miles, and it is absurd to use a 3000 pound, automobile to make such a trip. Yet time savings, comfort and convenience point to the use of a car. Alvin Weinberg, in his debate with Amory Lovins, pointed out that freedom to control personal time is an important motive for energy use. Energy is used in order to save time. Personal comfort is another consideration. Trips that would be uncomfortable to make if walking, are much more comfortable to make in an auto. No one would walk a substantial distance in the heat of a Dallas summer afternoon, if he or she had an air condition car as an alternative. Walking in rain can be uncomfortable, while walking in a thunderstorm can be down right dangerous. Cold weather can also pose comfort issues. Beyond the comfort issue, walking may impose an inconvenience. For example, a trip to the grocery store may be difficult to manage on foot, if one purchases several bags of groceries.
Light electrical vehicles, such as electric bikes and scooters, represent a step up both in terms of time savings, comfort and convenience. Light electrical vehicles are by no means entirely satisfactory even for all small trips. An electric bike or scooter is still going to be comfortable in the rain, and will carry only a limited weight in addition to a rider. Also people with balance problems would probably avoid electric bikes and scooters. There are three wheeler electrical bikes imported from China, but when I looked at them, they appeared heavy and awkward. I am not sure that an older person would want to ride one on a regular basis. The advantages of electrical bicycles is that they are cheap and trip costs with them would be very low. Electrical scooters though faster than electrical bikes, are more expensive and pose like electrical bikes some comfort, safety and convenience issues.
Short trip EVs should be cheap. The GEM, while cheaper than conventional autos, is ten times more expensive than an electrical bike. Well it is cute, and you can get one with a mini truck bed, and you can carry all the groceries you would wish to with that, but in its current iteration the GEM, with a top speed of 25 MPH, may not be street legal on many of the urban streets I would wish to drive it on. The GEM has an adequate thirty mile range between recharges, and it uses conventional, low cost acid lead batteries.In addition to its low speed, the GEM would present safety issues. Imagine a collision between a GEM and a Hummer. The GEM would be sent flying like a bowling ball. Despite its small size the underpowered GEM would not be nimble in traffic, and its diminutive size and light weight, do not suggest structural safety. Before you run out to buy a GEM, you need to make sure that it can be legally put to the use you intended for it.
The GEM could be designed to be safer, and to have more power. A 30 horsepower electric motor, would offer adequate speed. Magnets made with rare earth alloys would improve motor performance, but future low cost rare earth supplies must be assured. Before it could be adopted for street use, a vehicle like the GEM would have to be made safer. Race car technology could be adopted to rider protection, but of course race cars are expensive, and their safety technology would require modification to lower costs.
Thus the real question for the future street legal GEM would have to do with its price. If a car like this can be made legal and safe, would it still be cheap enough to attract buyers who are looking for low cost errand transportation?