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A Failed Experiment? EV Proponents Beg to Differ

October 18, 2000|JOHN O'DELL

Critics say the auto industry has been a reluctant participant in California's zero-emissions vehicle program all along, although there once seemed to be some excitement within the business over vehicles such as General Motors' stylish and speedy EV1.

That vehicle, which still sets the gold standard for battery-electric vehicles, was introduced in 1998 in response to the early version of California's ZEV mandate, an agreement between state and industry to get a handful of EVs onto the streets for evaluation.

This summer, as it became clear that the state would push to adopt a formal mandate, the industry became more vocal in its opposition to the plan, calling battery-powered electric cars and trucks a failed experiment. Despite their best marketing efforts and huge price subsidies, the auto makers said, the vehicles never had the range or utility to catch on with the car-buying public.

Electric vehicle proponents counter by pointing to studies showing that the average California commuter drives less than 60 miles a day except on extended weekend or vacation trips.

Greg Hanssen, an Irvine engineer and avid EV1 driver, believes the envelope can be pushed a lot further. Over the last few weeks, he and two other Southern California EV1 owners have driven their cars to the annual international electric vehicle exposition this week in Montreal.

Hanssen, in a telephone interview from a stop in Ontario, Canada, said he has been "taking it easy" and averaging 250 miles a day. He covers up to 140 miles or so each morning before stopping for three hours for a late lunch and sightseeing while getting a partial recharge. He then travels 100 miles more before stopping for the night and a full overnight recharge.

While it is a drive few EV users would attempt, Hanssen said the effort sends a message: "A friend and I went from California to Florida last year. And when someone asked my friend why, he said it showed that if we could drive an EV across country, then you could drive one to work without worrying."

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