YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Credibility for an Infant Industry : UCLA analysis of the electric vehicle field bolsters area's aspirations as manufacturing hub

June 20, 1993

A UCLA report on the electric vehicle industry, one of the first serious outside analyses of that industry's potential, concludes that electric cars are a good idea for California. That is reassuring.

The research team at UCLA's Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in a recent report, claims that an electric vehicle industry could create 24,000 jobs in Southern California and help revive the region as a high-tech manufacturing center.

Faith in electric cars as a key to revitalization of this region's economy is hardly new. The technology has been invoked almost as a kind of mantra by business and government leaders as more than 221,400 well-paid manufacturing jobs have vanished from this region since 1988.

An electric vehicle (EV) components industry could lead, many believe, to development in Los Angeles of a large industrial district to build advanced transportation equipment, including mass transit rail cars, high-speed magnetic levitation trains and traffic management systems.

But until now those singing the praises of EVs the loudest had a financial or at least a big political stake in their success. The UCLA study gives their fervent hopes some much-needed credibility.

Regulations from the California Air Resources Board mandate that 2% of all new cars sold here by 1998 be zero-emission vehicles; electric cars produce no atmospheric pollutants. Nonetheless, a lot more than regulatory mandates, hope and UCLA's analytic skills are required to create manufacturing jobs and produce affordable electric cars.

Last week Chrysler won certification that its electric minivan meets state clean-air auto standards. But the Big 3 U.S. auto manufacturers must fulfill their commitment to actually mass-produce electric cars. And they should produce them in Southern California.

Calstart, a Burbank-based consortium of private companies, research institutions and government agencies, is already at work on components technology. Like private industry, state and local governments must maintain their commitment to Calstart so that California keeps its competitive edge in this technology. Other states, including Texas and New York, have formed similar consortiums, and each hopes that one of its cities will become the Detroit of the electric vehicle industry.

The technological hurdles to production of a commercial vehicle remain formidable; current models, for example, still can travel only relatively short distances before batteries needs recharging. Another obstacle will be price--some estimates put the cost of EVs at $100,000 each.

But the UCLA report should give even pessimists hope that these obstacles can be overcome.

Los Angeles Times Articles