Back in the day, during the 25 years he worked as a petroleum geologist exploring for gas for companies such as Texaco and Sun Oil, Steve Osborne did his part helping get people from A to B.

Now he's still doing that, only with a decided ironic twist.

Five years ago, Steve left the oil industry in his rearview mirror when, along with partner Scott Montgomery, he bought Highland Golf, a Salt Lake-based company that sells battery-powered electric golf cars to a variety of customers, including golf courses, hotels, airports, schools and private individuals for off-highway use.

So he did a career 180. He went from an industry completely dependent on fossil fuel to one completely independent of fossil fuel.

The irony racheted up even further at the start of 2007 when Highland Golf added GEM cars to its product line.

GEM stands for Global Electric Motorcars — battery-powered vehicles that are equipped to be street legal.

Or, as Steve likes to put it, "Golf cars on steroids."

GEMs come with windshield, windshield wipers, four-wheel braking, seat belts, speedometer, a governor that limits the maximum speed to a legal limit of 25 mph (although they can go faster), doors if you want them and a traveling range between 30 and 40 miles, depending on the terrain.

These are not your favorite foursome's golf carts anymore.

In states that allow them — and so far that includes 45 of the 50 states, including Utah — GEMs are legal to travel on streets with a posted speed limit of 35 or less. It is also OK to cross streets with higher speed limits.

That makes them attractive for urban areas and master-planned communities, especially where the weather is nice. Reportedly, the converted golf cars are becoming something of a craze in sunbelt areas such as Las Vegas and Phoenix.

What makes them even more attractive is what it costs to operate them.

One cent per mile. Give or take.

A full charge, which requires plugging into an electric socket at night and unplugging in the morning, costs about 30 cents.

You could drive 1,000 miles a month for $10 — and never have to change your oil.

"These cars aren't for everybody or for all kinds of transportation," says Steve, "but they definitely have their niche."

Already, Steve says, a local home builder in a large master-planned community development in the Salt Lake Valley is planning to offer a GEM with every new home purchase.

The price of the GEMs ranges from $7,000 for a basic two-passenger model to $16,000 for a fully loaded four-passenger model.

Highland Golf has already sold several GEMs, according to Steve, and is fielding questions about them every day (you can see them online at or

"There is a direct correlation between the price of oil and the number of inquiries we get," says the onetime petroleum explorer turned electric car dealer. "When gas goes up, interest does too."

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.