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The Shocking Truth About Electric Cars

Gary Starr

According to recent studies, 90% of all second car driving is under 21 miles per day, and 75% of the daily travel in the United States is within 31 miles of all driver's homes. Today, electric cars are capable of speeds of 60-65 miles per hour and have ranges of 50 to 100 miles.

In the year 1900, there were more electric vehicles on the road than gasoline-powered cars. In a little remembered trial in 1949, General Motors, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Manufacturing and Firestone were convicted of antitrust violations for their activities in buying and dismantling electrified-rail mass transit systems.

Electric cars never need gasoline (just think, no more gas spills on either your car or yourself!). They also don't produce any exhaust pollution whatsoever. Conventional cars have been blamed for producing up to 50% of the greenhouse effect, and are largely responsible for urban smog. Electrics also produce much less noise pollution. They are much quieter during normal operation and during idle are nearly silent.

In order for gasoline powered vehicles to operate efficiently, they need to be warmed up and driven at steady speeds. They are extremely inefficient when used for short trips, stop and go city driving and in traffic. This inefficiency results in poor burning of fuel and the production of air pollution. Electrics can perform very efficiently during short trips, since their motors don't need to be warmed up, and when the vehicles are rolling to a stop or a standstill no energy at all is consumed.

If an environmentalist drives a gas powered car, he could be as guilty a polluter as an errant oil tanker. A recent Greenpeace article (May/June 1990) noted: In the United States do-it-yourself auto mechanics dump an Exxon Valdez worth of used motor oil down drains and sewers every two and one-half weeks. Drivers in Los Angeles use one of every four gallons simply idling their cars on traffic-bound roads. The amount they send up in smoke is 80 times greater than the amount spilled from the Exxon Valdez. This waste will only get worse as congestion clogs roadways and driving speeds slow. Analysts predict that average speeds in Los Angeles will drop from 35 mph today to 15 mph by the year 2000. ELECTRIC = SAVINGS

In regard to maintenance and operating costs, electrics are much less expensive to own than conventional vehicles. Electrics cost only 1.9 to 4 cents per mile. (.38 to .77 kiloWatt hours per mile). Recently US News and World Report noted that the average cost per mile for gas cars, just the gas & oil used, was 8 cents per mile. Additional cost savings can be achieved by charging a vehicle during off-peak periods using a dual metering system available through your utility. Once the meter is installed rates go down if the vehicle is charged between 6 p.m. and 12:00 noon.

Electric vehicles never need oil changes or radiator flushes. They never need tune-ups, antifreeze, or carburetor adjustments. They have no mufflers, sparkplugs, valves, fuel pumps, fan belts, water pumps, pistons, radiators, timing belts, condensers, points, or grinding starters. They have no need for PVC valves, or catalytic converters, and never need smog tests.

One additional area of savings in power, maintenance, and possible tax savings is the addition of solar panels. Solar panels can extend vehicle range, reduce charging time, and extend battery life. It is possible that if solar panels are integrated into the vehicle, the entire vehicle will qualify for both the Federal and California's business solar tax credits, totalling 20% of system cost. WHAT NEGATIVE IMPACTS?

Some critics of electrics have claimed that new power plants would need to be built, trading one pollution source for another. These claims appear to be false. Southern California Edison claims it currently has enough slack nighttime capacity to recharge 600,000 electric vehicles in its service area. The results of a utility survey prepared by Electric Vehicle Development Corporation (EVDC), showed that by the year 2000, 3.4 million EVs could be served by off-peak capacity by the utilities which responded to the study. By extrapolating the data for the entire U.S., EVDC estimates that some 19.7 million EVs could be served nationwide with projected off-peak electricity generating capacity.

Others have expressed worry that these vehicles would also contribute additional pollution from power plants. According to the California Air Resources Board, electric vehicles emit 90% fewer pollutants than gasoline even after including emission from the power plants. Furthermore, on the west coast much of our nighttime power comes from hydro, and with continued price breakthroughs in solar electricity, the availability of pollution free electricity may be unlimited. DINOSAURS IN DETROIT

Despite a recent unveiling of an electric car by GM, Detroit car makers seem to have a bias against electric vehicles. It seems that their token efforts have been designed merely to becalm lawmakers intent on adopting tougher pollution control standards.

In a recent interview about the electric auto, Roger Smith, Chairman of General Motors cautioned that their electric car, the Impact, "would cost twice as much to operate as a gasoline-powered car." This statement is directly contrary to data generated from both private and government studies.

Last fall, just months before Earth Day, General Motors employees received a letter from company president Robert Stempel urging them to write their legislators requesting that motor vehicle standards not be made any more stringent. Calling the industry already "at the very edge of technological feasibility," he says news reports about air quality in our cities are "exaggerated". Stempel also writes that California's new proposed air quality standards are

"excessively stringent and unnecessary," and they "will divert our efforts from meeting the competitive challenge and our customers' needs."

Chrysler, usually the self-proclaimed innovator in Detroit recently bashed electric cars. At a recent press conference Lee Iacocca said, "Electric cars. Forget it. Everyone's putting new skin on a golf cart. Will people pay a premium to say, 'My tailpipe's cleaner than your tailpipe.' No."

"I hate to be a cynic," Iacocca said, "but GM says the car has a 125 mile range before recharging. Unless they have a secret, we say it's really 85 miles and if you floor the pedal to get uphill you lose half the range."

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