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BURBANK : Electric-Gas Car Stops Short of Students' Goal

September 24, 1993|ED BOND

For the electric car, Thursday might have marked a great leap forward--an ambitious one-day drive from Sacramento to Burbank on only five gallons of gas.

The idea was to combine a gas engine with an electric one, gaining power and range from the gasoline while conserving energy with the electricity.

But 120 miles into the drive, something happened. The crankshaft in the gasoline engine broke, shooting down the dreams of a group of engineering students who wanted to establish an endurance record for the "Hybrid Electric Vehicle."

"Get the trailer out," Greg Eng, the UC Davis engineering student who was driving, reportedly said when the car broke down on Interstate 5.

"We always viewed it as a 50-50 chance that we would make it," Eng said.

The car was loaded onto a trailer and hauled the rest of the way.

The group of mostly graduate students in the school's mechanical engineering department had been taking turns driving since leaving Sacramento at 5 a.m. Other students followed in "chase" vehicles, one of which was a Suburban with a trailer attached waiting for such a contingency.

The hybrid car uses both a gas-powered internal combustion and an electric engine. The electric engine is used in stop-and-go local traffic and to accelerate on highways. The gas-powered engine is used at cruising speeds of about 60 m.p.h.

After reaching Burbank, the car's electric engine--which still worked--was turned on and the vehicle was driven into the garage of Calstart, a public-private consortium that is trying to develop technologies for electric vehicles.

There, the body was taken apart so gasoline consumption could be measured. As it turned out, the vehicle was getting 75 miles to the gallon before it broke down.

The students were disappointed by the failure. They had hoped for an impressive display of a useful and environmentally sound car.

Eng pointed to where the Verdugo Mountains were blotted out by smog. The failure was especially depressing, he said, "when I look over there and I can't see the mountains."

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