x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tazzari Zero: 'It's kind of a test balloon'

The no-frills little electric Zero, the first of its kind for the Tazzari aluminium company in Italy, is a revolution for its owner, the Dubai-based lawyer Michael Krämer.

Michael Krämer charges his Tazzari Zero overnight with a plug he made himself.
Michael Krämer charges his Tazzari Zero overnight with a plug he made himself.

The rain that threatened from the ominous clouds over Dubai finally begins to fall as I take the little car out onto the road. Easing into traffic, the steady thump-thump of the windscreen wipers is almost drowned out by the din of the powerplant as I press the accelerator down, its deft, go-kart-like handling impressive as I spin the thick steering wheel along the curved streets around Media City. It's going to be a thrilling ride, but not for all the right reasons.

Because this is no ordinary car, and this is no ordinary test. I'm in one of the very few electric cars in the UAE - a Tazzari Zero, to be exact - owned by the Dubai-based lawyer Michael Krämer, and he's allowing me to take it for a spin on this rare grey day in the Emirates and talking with me about why he bought an electric car.

But talking isn't so easy. Oddly, the car is almost silent from the outside, but sitting inside the cockpit, it's necessary to raise your voice to talk over the loud whine of the motor.

"Let's face it, there is no ABS, there are no air bags, there are no nothing," says Krämer. "It's very basic. But what I was thinking, for me, what has a certain charm is that it's so basic. You can see that it's a first attempt for these guys at building a car, and I think they've done a good job, really."

And basic it certainly is. The Zero is built in Imola, Italy, by Tazzari, an aluminium company. And it's tiny; smaller than a Mercedes Smart car, with room for two people in its cramped confines, who rest on hard, plain seats. There is a radio and even air conditioning, though how that will perform in 45° Celsius heat is, to put it mildly, questionable.

I'm finding it hard to pay attention to Krämer at this point, however; as I get up to speed in the car, it's starting to get very skittish on the wet roads; hitting a small pool of water makes the 550kg car slip and slide, searching for grip. My own grip on the steering wheel tightens.

Krämer is very interested in renewable energy and eco mobility, enough so that he bought the car and had it shipped to the UAE in November for a total price of around Dh130,000; not a small sum, considering you could buy a new Volkswagen Golf for that price. He says it was a relatively painless process.

"Getting it over here was easy; when I went to register it with the RTA, they didn't have a listing for it, but I think someone was sympathetic to it; someone liked the idea of electric cars in Dubai there. So they helped to get it registered."

I've got the mode selector set at "race"; a rather optimistic name, considering the 20hp or so from the single motor underneath the car. It gives full power to the motor at the expense of range, which the company says would normally be about 150km, though Krämer says realistically he gets between 80km and 100km in real-world driving.

"The range depends on the traffic conditions," he says as I weave around cars. "I drive on Sheikh Zayed Road very often; that hardly takes any power at all, funny enough. But if you're stuck in stop-and-go traffic, that takes a lot of power. The acceleration takes a lot of power."

I brake to slow the car and can't help but let out a little yelp; the rotors at all four wheels are about the same size as those found on bicycles, and stopping takes more planning than you'd like. Krämer laughs; he's well aware of the Zero's limitations.

"It does certainly have its flaws, but I knew that before I bought it, and I expected it. It's kind of a test balloon for me. If I had wanted luxury and comfort, I certainly wouldn't have bought it. But that's kind of boring; this is interesting. If you drive this down Sheikh Zayed Road, sometimes it's mad. If I go down Jumeirah Beach Road, people stop and get out of their cars to look. So, that's kind of cool."

Apart from sliding in puddles, the handling of the Zero is razor sharp - its wheels are pushed out to the corners of the all-aluminium car, so it's quite nimble around town. And all of its 150Nm of torque is available from a stop, so it feels a bit quicker than you think it should be, though you still won't win many stop-light drag races.

But I'm glad when we finally arrive at Krämer's home; the constant squirming of the car in the wet has my knuckles white around the wheel. We climb out and Krämer shows me his charging cord, which is run from a normal outlet from his home.

"I don't have the proper plug, so I made one myself. If I wanted to use the three charging speeds, I'd have to get one from the factory.

"Slow is alright, on a normal household current. It will charge overnight, unless I drop the battery capacity below 20 per cent; then I need about 14 hours. I tried the fast setting once, and it pretty well melted my cable!"

For all of the little green car's drawbacks, Krämer has no regrets about buying it. He's obviously very passionate about the environment, and we chat about the UAE's carbon footprint and of recent recycling efforts here.

"I think it's interesting how easily you can make a difference, and not just with high tech. When you think about separating waste - you just take out paper, metal, bottles, and suddenly you've cut down on your waste by 90 per cent."

In the meantime, he will concentrate on what he and his family can do. Though he acknowledges that buying his Zero is a bit extreme when it comes to environmental awareness, Krämer says that making real change starts with the individual.

"I'm not a revolutionary," he says emphatically, "but if I start a revolution in my own life, that's enough."