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Above: This is one of 100 City-el's that will be tested by the general public for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Photo by Tom Whitney

Stuck In Gear

Michael Hackleman

A milestone is looming five years off. By 1998, 2% of cars sales in California must be ZEV (zero emission vehicles). So, a manufacturer must sell two EVs out of every hundred vehicles sold. There is a $5,000 penalty for each non-ZEV car sold beyond this ratio. These must be sales. So, a trick like making something that nobody wants or can afford won't work.

General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler Corporation are balking. The 1998 mandate, they claim, isn't a milestone. It's a wall. Influence peddling is in high gear to get it killed, delayed, or weakened. The magic year is 1994. It takes four years for a product to go from an auto company drawing board to the showroom floor. If they can't kill the mandate, auto companies must commit to do the work by 1994.

A gutsy WGBH production on Frontline (PBS) in mid-October put the issue in perspective. First, there were highlights of a little-known press conference where the Big Three adopted a can-do attitude over a ClintonGore challenge (and the tens of billions of dollars behind it) to build "clean cars" with 80 mpg fuel economies in the next decade. I wonder how many cars they will build for the money. If this was Vegas, I'd bet three.

Meanwhile, the Big Three have turned up the heat, much of it directed at CARB (California Air Resources Board), the agency charged with enforcing the 1998 ZEV mandate. At first, one of the giants in the auto industry suggested that they were "counting on the flexibility of CARB in this matter". CARB spokesperson

Jananne Sharpless' response was a suggestion that they "step outside in the real world and take a look around." Will CARB back off? "Any car company that can't deliver ZEVs in 1998," replied Sharpless, "won't be selling cars in California!"

Among others, the documentary interviewed Alan Cocconi of AC Propulsion. Cocconi was a key figure in the revolutionary design of the motor and controller found in GM's Impact, a production prototype that was built from the ground up to run on electricity. The Impact's performance is impressive, demonstrating sports car acceleration, range, and cruising efficiency (100+ mpg equivalent). This speaks well for EV propulsion and validates thinking "light and aerodynamic". For a comparable size of car, the Impact has chopped by 50 percent both drag and weight without sacrificing crashworthiness.

Cocconi left the joint GM-Aerovironment project because he felt that GM was going to sit on the technology. He's put thousands of miles on "a next generation ac drive" that he has built and installed in a Honda CRX. With a tiny generator pod in tow, he drove his electric non-stop from Los Angeles to the Phoenix electric car races earlier this year. He has systems for sale.

I called the CARB office after the show aired on PBS. (In this morning's paper, there was a short article that described GM's reaction to the documentary. They were going to look closer at funding PBS shows in the future. See, I told you it was a gutsy show!) I asked CARB's Jerry Martin how did they know that GM could build an affordable ZEV? I liked the answer: "ZEV's are already being produced in California by smaller companies that meet our expectations and are comparably priced," he said. "We already certify conversions (cars converted from engines to electric drive) from ElectroAutomotive, Solectria, Solar Car Corporation, and others. This includes Geo Metros, Volkswagen Rabbits, some trucks, and imports like the Kewet (Green Motor Works)."

Meanwhile, GM has killed production of the revolutionary Impact. They do plan to build fifty Impact look-alike's. Supposedly, there are now a dozen duplicates of the Impact driving about. I wonder what kind of mileage they get on the Impact with the engine in it? With only one-fourth the propulsive load of a standard car, it must be pushing 100 mpg.

I tried to get on the list of people who get to drive an Impact for a two-week test period beginning next year. "No way," a GM representative told me. "You live outside the city. You won't be close enough to one of our support centers." Oh, do I need one of those? I've been driving nothing but an electric car for the past 18 months. It's content to sip power from a wall socket.

I changed tactics. I explained the good public relations I could give GM with the environmental crowd through a Home Power article. I was told rather bluntly that environmentalists will not be the target market. Too small a group. The Big Three make their money on big cars. That's partly right, I think. Most environmentalists I know don't buy big or flashy.

The conversation wasn't over. I was told it will cost more to buy an electric car. And operate it, too. How much more operating cost over a gas car?, I asked. $1,000 per year average, came the reply. That's funny. My experience has been just the opposite. Some EV owners have been documenting their use and costs over very long time periods. Why Wait For Detroit (Steve McCrea, editor) has printed this information. Can this data be ignored?

I have to ask this question. Do we really want to give these people any more money to develop a good EV?

We don't lack the technology for EVs. A lack of integration, yes. Even that's changing. I am ecstatic to offer Otmar Ebenhoech's "Regenerative Braking for the Series DC Motor" in this issue. Safe, reliable, and affordable REGEN for DC Propulsion Systems has been an elusive Holy Grail. Now, here's something designed to work with the stock, off the shelf components found in most conversions. This trailblazing R&D didn't cost government or industry a dime. At least, I hope a manufacturer will include it (or an interface) with their own package. EV owners need an option to voiding their controller's warranty in order to use it! Good job, Otmar!

When it comes to EVs, the U.S. lags behind other countries in design and implementation. Visiting Geneva soon? Why not rent an electric? John Schaefer's experience, detailed in "Electric Cars In Switzerland", was a pleasant one.

Incidentally, there's a new official world record distance for Electrathon class racing. It was set at the San Jose, California Velodrome on August 26th by Otmar Ebenhoech, driver of the Cloud #40 car. Gaining an eight-lap lead on the field before the race was over, Otmar chalked up over 35 miles in one hour. Not bad for only 64 pounds of stock lead acid batteries!

If 35 mph doesn't sound so fast, try this. Sit on a skateboard. Lean back until you're almost reclined. Get over the hill where you can achieve and maintain a 35 mph speed. Add seven more machines doing the same thing in your immediate vicinity. Now, tell me you want to go faster!

I recently scanned a consumer survey conducted by an auto company. Where is the non-gas car an option? A few wild questions like "Would you like a car that doesn't use gasoline or any other petroleum-based fuel?" and "Would you prefer a car that had no tailpipe emmissions?" and "To make your car run, would prefer to plug your car into your house or at work or are you happy to operate a gas pump at a service station?". Answers are ever so much more informative when you can't predict the answer. It lets you know if you're playing the same game — or even in the right ballpark!

Suggesting that electric vehicles will cost more, be limited in range etc. achieves little more than biasing the answers. Car ads don't say "Burning gasoline creates smog!" This is an unequal application of truth in marketing. When GM unveiled the Impact, it was stunned by positive response, despite its statement of increased costs. That's about as good a vote of confidence (and endorsement) any company should need to advance a product! Time to shift gears. It's a race. The prize is a happy, clean place to live, work, move about in, and play.


Michael Hackleman, POB 63, Ben Lomond, CA 95005

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