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World leaders trade gas guzzlers for electrics

President Bush and other world leaders meeting on a vacation island this week are driving around in electric vehicles.
President Bush drives Iraq's new interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer, after their meeting at the Group of Eight Summit in Sea Island, Ga., Wednesday.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

He zipped around a corner, passenger Tony Blair’s arm hanging out the window.

But this was no pickup truck down at the ranch. President Bush’s vehicle of choice at this tiny island summit looked like a high-tech, souped-up, electric-powered golf cart.

With most event sites just a few blocks apart, Bush drove Blair to the opening business session of the Group of Eight economic summit on Wednesday in one — emblazoned with the red, white and blue colors of the American flag.

Color coded
The day before, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder powered himself to a meeting with Bush, waving at a cluster of reporters as he glided past.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrives in an electric car to be greeted by U.S. President George W. Bush (Back-R) for the Plenary session at the G8 summit on Sea Island, Georgia, June 9, 2004. U.S. President George W. Bush, fresh from gaining passage of a critical U.N. resolution on Iraq, will introduce the new president of Iraq to fellow leaders at the G8 summit later today. REUTERS/Rick WilkingRick Wilking / X00301

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made sharp zigs and zags on his cart before bringing it to an abrupt stop.

The snazzy vehicles, capable of reaching a speed of 25 mph, are decorated with each country’s official colors. Being all-electric vehicles, they are plugged in to be recharged.

“These are amazing cars and are ideal for our needs. They look great, function flawlessly, and are sensitive to the environment,” Barry Bennett, the summit's communications director, said in a statement.

Under $10,000
Global Electric Motors, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, builds the GEM cars and donated 36 for the summit. The public can purchase several models — absent the flag colors. Bush’s four-seater lists for $8,995.

Sold at Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealerships, the vehicles are street legal in most states where they can be driven on roadways posted up to 35 mph. GEM says it has 28,000 of its vehicles in use, most in the United States.

So popular are the vehicles with heads of state and their top aides that sometimes they’re in short supply.

“I had to walk over here. I couldn’t find mine,” Bush’s communications director, Dan Bartlett, told reporters at a press center.