In the early 1990s, California took yet another leadership position in battling motor vehicle-related air pollution and mitigating fossil fuel use with its forward-thinking 1998 Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate. This mandate would require two percent of the new models for sale in California by the largest auto manufacturers to offer zero emissions in 1998, with larger percentages in future years. While this could potentially be achieved through any available means, it essentially meant the production and sale of battery electric vehicles. Environmentalists and many others were thrilled, while the auto industry in general was not. The result was an increasingly contentious fight to kill, preserve, or modify the mandate. Below is our special report detailing the siege of the state’s ZEV Mandate and an overview of the wave of activities taking place at the time. This report is presented just as it originally appeared in Green Car Journal’s April 1994 issue.
Excerpted from April 1994 Issue: Even as the U.S. Big Three automakers are lining up against the zero emission vehicle mandate, others within the automaking community are showing their support. An increasing number of noted automotive personalities are also becoming involved with electric cars as the pace of development picks up.
For example, Carroll Shelby, developer of the 1960s-era Shelby Cobras and former board member at EV powertrain company Unique Mobility, has shown an active interest in producing a hybrid electric vehicle. Other notables abound. Among them: Former General Motors chairman and CEO Robert Stempel, GM Hughes Aircraft chairman emeritus Malcolm Currie, and Malcolm Bricklin, importer of the Yugo subcompact and developer of the gull-wing exotic car that bore his name in the 1970s, among others.
Electric Vehicles on the Track
Former Indy, Can-Am, and Formula Atlantic drivers are taking their turn at the wheel of electrically-propelled race cars. Example: 1983 Indy 500 winner Tom Sneva raced at Arizona Public Service’s Electric 500 in Phoenix again this year, this time in an electrified 1993 Ford Probe. Auto magazine writers/race drivers like Motor Trend’s road test editor Mac DeMere have taken to the track in Formula Lightning electric race cars, bringing the potential of sharing their positive EV experience with millions of auto enthusiast readers.
Exercises in range and speed abound as performance benchmarks are sought for modern electric vehicles. One of the most significant to date was set just last month by GM’s Impact at the Fort Stockton Test Center’s 7.7 mile oval track in Texas. Running modified power electronics and high-speed Michelin tires, the Impact weighed in at 3,250 pounds once stripped of interior trim and fitted with a roll cage. It ran a United States Auto Club-sanctioned 183.075 mph over a timed mile to establish a record for EVs in the 2,205 pound and above category. Its unofficial international land-speed record remains subject to confirmation by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.
Far from being just an exercise in speed, this effort also helps further electric vehicle state-of-the-art, as is always the case in racing. “We wanted to find the vehicle’s top speed because we new it would provide us with real-world data on the car’s aerodynamics, the efficiency and durability of the propulsion system, and it would help us fine-tune the suspension,” offers Kenneth R. Baker, vice president of GM’s Research and Development Center.
ZEV Mandate Spurs Worldwide Effort
Performance milestones achieved since the California Air Resources Board announced its zero emission vehicle mandate in 1990 have been impressive. In 1991, an electric car called the IZA fielded by Tokyo Electric Power Co., Meidensha, and Tokyo R&D claimed a single-charge distance of 343 miles in Japan. This was achieved on a chassis dynamometer at a constant speed of 25 mph. In 1992, a Horlacher Sport EV powered by sodium-sulfur batteries ran 340 miles nonstop at an average of 74 mph in Switzerland. Also in 1992, a retrofitted Geo Metro powered by BAT Technology-prepared batteries and an Advanced D.C. Motors powertrain reportedly achieved a single-charge driving distance of 405 highway miles at an average of 43 mph in Utah.
This same year saw Dr. John Dunning and three associates at Delco Remy drive 631 miles in a 24 hour period behind the wheel of an electric Geo Storm in California. The car, outfitted with a GM Impact battery pack and electric drive system, achieved this milestone by alternating one-hour drives at better than 50 mph with one-hour charging sessions using a 7 kilowatt charger.
In early 1993, Chrysler made news with a 158 hour, 2,604 mile Detroit-to-Los Angeles trip in an electric TEVan while showcasing Chrysler/Norvik quick-charge technology. During this same time frame, Bill Roe set a new national closed-course one-mile oval speed record by breaking the 100 mph barrier in a Brawner Motorsport-prepared electric Lola Indy Car at the Solar & Electric 500 in Phoenix.
Battery Swaps and Fast Charging
The progression has continued in 1994. Roe eclipsed his own closed-course EV record recently at the APS Electric 500, piloting his Exide EX 11 electric IndyCar to a new national one lap record speed of 107.162 mph. And Diversified Technical Services’ Dan Parmley completed a record-breaking endurance run on Phoenix International Raceway’s one mile oval, driving 1,048.8 miles in 24 hours courtesy of 23 battery changeovers.
Parmley’s effort supplanted an electric vehicle endurance record recently established by Solectria’s James Worden. Worden drove 831.8 miles on the 1,477 mile oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway to set a new 24 hour distance driving record in a lead-acid battery powered Chevy S-10 pickup. Sponsored by the Southern Coalition for Advanced Transportation, the truck’s batteries were recharged 13 times at 16 kWh by a fast-acting Electronic Power Technology charger, taking less than 20 minutes each time. It was driven an average of 59 miles between charges.
These efforts do prove what’s possible, but not necessarily what’s realistic for everyday drivers. It’s true that electric vehicles can be made to go very fast. They can accelerate just as quickly as most internal combustion engine cars. With a steady accelerator, a series of battery exchanges, or a healthy dose of quick charges, they can also travel very respectable distances. But at present they can’t do all of these at the same time.
ZEV Mandate Encourages Innovation
That’s sobering news, to be sure. But there are plenty of positives to recognize. Note the significant technology advancements made in just four short years of extensive EV development: Battery exchanges, an obscure concept when first voiced by industry experts, has proven viable in racing. Rapid recharging, which holds promise for overcoming the electric vehicle’s dependence on lengthy recharging sessions and unnecessary downtime, has also shown its promise in the lab, during demonstrations, and on the track. New battery technologies, most notably nickel-metal-hydride, are starting to prove their worth in real-world trials.
Perhaps most important is the promise shown by the advanced electric vehicles being fielded by U.S. automakers in limited numbers. Both the Ford Ecostar and Chrysler TEVan have demonstrated their viability as utility vehicles during test drives at the hands of Green Car Journal editors.
GM's Impressive Impact EV
But as an all-around technology statement, there’s nothing like GM’s Impact. GCJ editors have driven the Impact hard on highways in Michigan, finding it superb in every regard. It distinguishes itself not only as an excellent electric vehicle, but as a rather amazing automobile even when stacked up against its gasoline-powered peers.
The Impact’s technological innovations are many, ranging from an ultra-lightweight aluminum space frame with composite body panels to an innovative heat pump climate control system and blended regenerative anti-lock braking. Like GCJ editors, testers from publications like Motor Trend, Popular Science, and Popular Mechanics also found the Impact a testament to the viability of the electric car.
Public perception is also favorable. In fact, GM has had a substantially greater number of requests to participate in its Impact PrEView Drive than ever anticipated. In response to an announcement sent with utility bills in New York and Los Angeles, the automaker reportedly expected about 5,000 replies in each market. Instead, New York generated a list of 14,000 volunteers, and Los Angeles about 10,000 – far too many for the program.
Tech Advances Via ZEV Mandate
To be sure, the Big Three’s developmental EVs are just that: Examples of electric vehicle development…an engineering ‘snapshot’ of where ewe are now. Anyone who describes them otherwise is exploiting these vehicles for their own aims, either pro or con. Their cost is very high due to their hand-built assembly and the exotic technologies employed. But they are functioning examples of what automakers can come up with when ‘encouraged’ by regulatory fiat. To think we would have done this far without a mandate in place is folly.
Many experts believe that California’s ZEV mandate has served not only as a motivator for the world’s automakers, but as a wake-up call for industry. Most of the players are involved not because they have to be, but because the electric vehicle field is perceived as being good business. That’s been the impetus for electric vehicle consortia like Calstart, Electricore, Southern Coalition for Advanced Transportation, Northeast Alternative Vehicle Consortium, Mid-America Electric Vehicle Consortium, and Hawaii’s Electric Vehicle Demonstration Project Consortium.
Emerging Opportunities for Suppliers
It's true that regulations now in place will require automakers to build and sell EVs. But that’s not the case with battery companies, electronics manufacturers, energy management specialists, tire manufacturers, engineering firms, composites manufacturers, aluminum companies, and many, many others. They’re on board because of emerging opportunities that will allow them to bring advanced transportation components to a new generation of energy efficient, more environmentally conscious automobiles. In their eyes, this will only take place if the California ZEV mandate survives the intensive automotive lobbying sure to take place in the months to come.
Momentum seems to be on the EV proponents’ side. The Ozone Transport Commission recently voted to adopt California’s low emission vehicle program in the Northeast, including requirements for zero-emission vehicles. On the heels of this decision came a California Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on Assembly Bill 2495, which would have prohibited the state from requiring ZEVs until battery technologies guaranteed arbitrary performance levels. This bill was heavily lobbied on both sides, then soundly defeated. The next round in this battle: Next month’s scheduled California Air Resources Board review of ZEV technologies and the feasibility of reaching the program’s goals. A full report to follow.