GEM Car Buzz

Although this winter has been especially cold and challenging, before we know it spring will be upon us and the snow will soon be melting. Along with the change in weather more of those small electric cars, looking somewhat like golf carts, will be seen zipping around campus streets and sidewalks. Despite their frequent presence on campus, these compact cars are a mystery to many. Since 2003, fourteen Global Electric Motorcars (GEM cars) have called the University of Rochester home.

The initial fleet of thirteen GEM cars was donated to the University by Chrysler in 2003. In total, 8 two-passenger and 4 four-passenger vehicles were donated. In 2005, an additional GEM car was purchased. A campus-wide policy was enacted in 2009 to consider alternative fuel vehicles when purchasing new or replacement vehicles. Use of GEM cars by University personnel has grown to include University Facilities and Services, Support Operations, Central Utilities, Parking, and Campus Planning, Design, and Construction Management. The current collection of alternative fuel vehicles consists of 7 hybrid cars, 4 Segways, 1 electric Mail Services delivery vehicle, 8 Zipcars, and 14 GEM cars.

GEM cars have been designed and manufactured since 1998 by Polaris Industries in Spirit Lake, Iowa. The company also makes government and military vehicles, off-road vehicles, motorcycles, and snowmobiles. Entirely electric, GEM cars run on a 72 volt battery system. To charge, the car plugs into a standard 110-volt AC 15-amp outlet. Fully charging a GEM car requires 8 hours, which will sustain driving for 25 to 30 miles. Driving time per charge can vary greatly depending on weather conditions and other factors, including temperature, terrain, driving conditions, payload, driving habits, battery age and tire pressure. With more than 45,000 GEM cars on the road worldwide, GEM cars have been driven more than 450 million miles and as a result, have saved almost 20 million gallons of gasoline, and have kept over 190 tons of pollutants from reaching the air.

GEM cars are designed with safety in mind. The maximum speed of 25 mph is electronically limited to meet Federal Low-Speed Vehicle requirements. Polaris routinely ensures that the vehicles comply with federal safety requirements for street-legal operation as low-speed vehicles (LSV’s). GEM cars are equipped with automotive safety windshield glass, three-point safety belts, turn signals, headlamps and brake lights, a horn, mirrors and windshield wipers.

However, the vehicles do not have anti-lock brakes or air bags. GEM cars are considered automobiles and when operated on public roads, must be licensed, insured, and operated by drivers with a valid driver’s license. Unlicensed GEM’s must only be driven on sidewalks and internal University roads. Although GEM cars do come equipped with a heating and defrost system, it is not recommended to drive the GEM cars in heavy snow or ice, hence the rarity of sighting one on campus in the winter.

GEM cars feature a wide variety of colors, number of seats, and an array of supported functions, such as hauling heavy supplies. The price of the vehicle can vary greatly depending on the model used. In addition to being used at universities, GEM cars are also marketed to resorts and hotels, amusement facilities, federal and local government agencies, and to various organizations specializing in property management, athletics, security, housekeeping, and grounds keeping.

Overall, GEM cars provide an environmentally friendly and convenient service for the University community. For more information, please visit:

Written by Melissa Kullman, class of 2014

One Reply to “GEM Car Buzz”

  1. I’m guessing the argument for solar energy is taking a hit with the recent low gas prices…..I expect gas to go back up, but it stays low for awhile, the focus goes away from various alternative fuels, which is too bad.

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