In an annual race of electric vehicles that ended last week in Portland, Me., a four-passenger sedan was driven 238 miles--with power to spare--on a single battery charge.
Four other electric cars in the American Tour de Sol, which began in Waterbury, Conn., went more than 100 miles on a charge.
Proponents of alternative vehicles said the cars' performances showed the improvements being made in electric-car batteries and stand in contrast to more pessimistic assessments by large auto makers. Detroit's Big Three car companies commonly cite limited ranges of 60 to 90 miles in their arguments for postponing California's 1998 deadline to sell the first commercial electric cars.
"This race shows enormous progress in electric vehicle technology, and that the 1998 mandate is definitely doable," said Sheila A. Lynch, executive director of the Boston-based Northeast Alternative Vehicle Consortium.
The 238-mile car, the Sunrise, built by Massachusetts-based Solectria Corp., used nickel metal hydride batteries that are being developed for commercial use by GM Ovonic, a joint venture of General Motors and Ovonic Battery Co.
"GM obviously invested in this technology because it has promise, but there's a balance between the technical feasibility and commercial viability," said Nanette Wiatr, GM spokeswoman for electric vehicles. The batteries, she cautioned, "also have to be priced at a price consumers can pay."