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Couple jumped on electric car trend early

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TAYLORVILLE — Yea, though Pastor Ted Marrinan and his wife, Jayna, drive through the valley of the shadow of outrageous gas prices, they fear no evil: For GEM art with them.

GEM stands for Global Electric Motorcars LLC, and this striking American-made, plug-in electric car — it looks like the bubble-shaped cockpit of a small helicopter without the rotors — has been with the Marrinans since they lived in Bay City, Mich., in 2005.

Concerned even back then of the terror of pump prices, they spent $10,000 to buy the GEM when fuel hit $2 per gallon. “We said it was time to get something that didn’t use gas,” said the Rev. Marrinan, 56.

Then came the call in 2007 to pastor the Bethel Baptist Church of Sharpsburg near Taylorville, and the couple promptly saddled up and brought the GEM with them. It had been legal to drive on Bay City streets, and they were able to continue in Taylorville until their Michigan registration ran out six months later.

It was at that point they discovered that the blessings of their going green quest for frugality ran into opposition from the city fathers of their new home: A request to drive the 35 mph GEM on the streets of Taylorville was denied. “They had several reasons, but none of them were any good,” said Marrinan. “They just said ‘no.’ ”

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That was a kind of “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” moment, but they knew they’d seen the Promised Land in Bay City and didn’t give up hope — which arrived in 2010 when Illinois law was changed to permit the use of “low-speed” vehicles on Land of Lincoln roads. Taylorville raised no objections.

The law promptly heralded a grateful exodus back to major fuel savings for the Marrinans. They both have regular gas vehicles they use for out-of-town travel — Jayna Marrinan commutes to a job in Springfield — but for parish work such as visiting the sick and running errands and shopping, the GEM is the ideal choice.

“You can probably get the equivalent of 10 sacks of groceries in it,” she said, adding the vehicle seats two comfortably and has a big pickup-truck style back that holds a trunk. “And all the savings,” she adds. “It’s insane; it’s like, ‘Are you joking?’ ”

Adds her husband, “The equivalency in cost, if I was putting gas into the GEM, is that I would be getting almost 2,800 miles a gallon,” he said proudly. Which means that if you compare the costs of charging the vehicle with juice to the nearly $4-a-gallon price of fuel, that’s how many miles you get for $4 worth of electricity.

The GEM is equipped with a heater, windshield wipers, and a small electronic dashboard. From a dead flat battery, it takes about four hours to charge, using a standard 110-volt outlet. The maximum range is 35 miles or so and, with a 50-foot extension cord carried on board and the modern preponderance of outside outlets, you’re never far from a top-up.

“It’s kind of like women who are pregnant,” said Jayna of the couple’s memorized knowledge of geographical outlet distribution. “You know where all the restrooms are.”

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