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Electric cars in Big Sky country?

Gas-guzzlers rule in Montana, but one salesman is trying to grow a niche market for the environmentally friendly Zenn car.

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"So here's a guy in a diesel," says Ron Gompertz, looking over his shoulder at the truck looming next to us. It's not really necessary to look, because the growling diesel engine is nearly drowning him out.

"You wanna drag?" he asks me.

The question is an interesting one, not so much for its illicit overtones, but because it's being posed by the driver of a tiny, 1,200-pound Zenn electric car, which boasts a top speed of 35 miles per hour. The presumed competitor is a Ford F-250 Super Duty diesel pickup truck, which towers menacingly above us in the left lane.

The light turns, Mr. Gompertz hits the accelerator, and a surge of electrical zeal sends the little car flying down Bozeman, Montana's Main Street and around the next corner just before the next light changes.

"He just ran a red light to chase us," Gompertz says, brimming with glee. "Watch him as he pulls up – he'll probably look down at us and make fun."

Gompertz owns Bozeman's EcoAuto, which sells the two-seater Zenn cars, electric scooters, and gas-powered, Mercedes-built Smart micro-cars. The race seems very amusing to him, but now the gurgling behemoth is hovering just above my shoulder. I take a timid glance up at the driver. He's not making fun – just staring.

"This is the Montana culture," says Gompertz, a native of New York City. "Macho mobiles. This is the contrast. Look, he's got his big bars there [in front] to kill things with. It's Mad Max Road Warrior. ... This is the part of the Montana culture I don't get, the Neanderthal kind of thing."

Gompertz is not your typical car salesman. He's not your typical anything, really. He's dressed in hiking shoes, baggy cargo shorts, and a T-shirt that promotes Corvette racing – a throwback to his childhood fascination with muscle cars.


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