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POLLUTION WATCH : Volts Wagons

August 12, 1993

Is there an electric car in your future?

That likelihood increases as 1998 approaches and auto makers strive to develop battery-powered cars to meet California's historic mandate for zero-emission vehicles. By 1998, 2%--or 40,000--of all new cars sold in the state must be pollution-free. By the year 2003 the figure rises to 10%.

Controversial to be sure, the California requirements are nevertheless driving the Big Three auto makers, entrepreneurs and other car makers around the world to seek to develop efficient, affordable battery-powered cars and trucks. New technological developments are sprouting even as some in the automobile industry work behind the scenes to delay or kill the California regulations, which in various forms are now being adopted by other states.

Demonstration electric vehicles (EVs) can be found in the United States, Europe and Japan. To push EV development, Tokyo has pursued a small but persistent government promotional effort. It hopes to put 200,000 EVs on the road in Japan by 2000, up from today's 1,000.

Major obstacles still face EV developers. Among them are prohibitive costs and batteries that can have a range of less than 100 miles before they need recharging and that can require frequent replacement.

If it becomes commercially viable, the technology being fostered by the state's environmental effort could bring with it a new day for California. And that might finally silence the argument that jobs and clean air are mutually exclusive.

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