Air Resources Board Urged to Keep "Zero-Emission" Standards on Track
SACRAMENTO – Encouraged by advancements in battery technology that will increase the range and lower the cost of electric cars, the Air Resources Board (ARB) staff has recommended that California's requirements for "zero-emission" vehicles remain on schedule for 1998.
Citing battery types with a 5-10 year lifespan and 200 mile range, "the ARB believes that the technology is developing at a rate that will produce a commercially viable electric vehicle by 1998," according to its published recommendations. The cars will meet the needs of 85 percent of commuters in big cities, according to automotive industry surveys included in the report.
The staff's report is the basis for the Board's next biennial review of the unique emission standard, scheduled for May 12-13. The ARB's emission standards require that 2 percent of the cars produced for sale in California by seven major manufacturers be non-polluting by 1998. The requirement increases to 5 percent by 2001 and requires 10 percent of the production from all car makers to meet the standard in 2003.
"Seventy-five percent of the nation's health threat from urban smog is concentrated in California, despite our long history of requiring the world's cleanest cars," said James D. Boyd, ARB executive officer. "We need the environmental benefit of cars with zero-emissions to meet our public health goals and to jumpstart the advanced transportation systems we will need for the next century.
"Car makers' research into electric cars made us believe that they could be a reality when we adopted the emission standard," he continued. "Now, it seems our standard has pushed that research to new levels, making electric cars more possible than ever before."
The staff notes that both car makers and battery manufacturers are developing many different kinds of batteries. They range from large versions of the batteries commonly used in watches and computers (nickel-metal hydride) to sodium-nickel-chloride to more energy-dense and lighter versions of the lead-acid batteries that start all cars today.
Although none of these batteries is currently being mass-produced for automobiles, the staff notes that full-size prototypes are available now for testing, giving manufacturers sufficient time to design a vehicle around the most promising technologies to meet the 1998 deadline.
The staff also note improvements to drive train and chassis components have increased the performance and range of electric cars and will be responsible for a vehicle with the fuel efficiency equal to a 100 mile per gallon car by 1998. A typical 100 kilowatt motor that weighs 100 pounds, for example, is 400 pounds lighter than one produced in 1985, while efficiency has increased from 80 percent to as much as 97 percent. Brakes use kinetic energy that is normally lost to recharge the battery during normal driving, adding range. The "brain" of the electric cars, the controller, manages the same number of systems as it did in 1985 and at the same cost, but at substantially less weight and with a simpler design.
The ARB staff also believes that within three to five years, ownership costs for electric cars will be the same as conventional cars, as far lower operating costs -- estimated at a penny and a half per mile compared to five cents for gas and oil -- offset the cost of batteries and as mass production and better production methods lower battery cost. The cost of maintaining an electric car, which requires no Smog Checks, tune-ups or oil changes, is estimated to be 35 to 80 percent less than that for conventional cars.
The ARB staff also note there appears to be widespread consumer interest in electric vehicles. More than 7,000 Los Angeles residents respond in the first week of General Motor's invitation to participate in a test program for electric cars while similarly enthusiastic responses were recorded across the country. A separate study cited by the report notes that 76 percent of consumers improved their opinion of electric cars after driving one.