Ford Comuta electric 1967
Legislators in California and their eager apostles in Westminster and Brussels cannot reverse a tide of events by passing a law. Los Angeles tackled photo-chemical smog by regulation and now nothing turns politicians’ heads so much, especially on America’s West Coast, by proposing (according to Automotive News and the Wall Street Journal) new rules that 5.5 per cent of cars must be zero emission by 2018.
They have said all this before. The accompanying Sunday Times column of 17 November 1991 said California was insisting on seven cars out of ten being battery powered by 2010. Legislators have had to back-track several times. Demanding 1.7 million electric cars by 2000 proved absurd. Even now there are only some 5,000 on the roads of the Sunshine State.
Ford Comuta chassis (batteries not included)
We are still not much better at storing electricity than Camille Jenatzy was in 1899 and Jacques Calvet’s plea for on-street battery charging remains as piously optimistic now as it was in 1991. And as Ben Webster the Environment Editor of The Times pointed out last week, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has admitted that electric cars could produce higher emissions over their lifetimes than petrol equivalents owing to the energy consumed in making batteries. An electric car would have to drive at least 80,000 miles before producing a saving in CO2. Many will not travel that far in their lifetime because they typically have a range of less than 90 miles and are unsuitable for long trips.
Even those driven 100,000 miles would save only about a tonne of CO2. Emissions made by manufacture, driving and disposal of electric cars, does nothing for tackling doom-laden environmentalists’ belief in climate change. The government Committee on Climate Change has called for them to be increased from a few hundred to 1.7 million by 2020. The Department for Transport is spending £43 million over the next year giving up to 8,600 buyers of electric cars a grant from taxpayers of £5,000.
Sounds like California. Perhaps the environment lobby will shut up and Our Leaders will back-track. Let practicalities prevail.
Sunday Times: Motoring, Eric Dymock 17 November 1991
Stand by for the charge of the battery brigade
The Californian legislation that obliges car manufacturers to offer electric alternatives is spreading. Nine other US states have announced they will follow California's lead, and with three more thinking about it, the electric car now seems likely to become big business.
This week Citroën announced the promising battery-powered Citela in Paris, and the Worthing-based International Automotive Design (IAD) launched in Los Angeles the production version of the car it revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Its LA 301 has a tiny petrol engine providing the energy for a 32 kw (43 bhp) electric motor.
Electric cars have seen false dawns before. In 1874 Sir David Salomons of Tunbridge Wells built a 1 horse power three wheeler powered from Bunsen cells. In 1899 Camille Jenatzy set a world speed record with an electric car, covering a kilometre at 65.79 mph. But hardly anything more practical than a milk float has ever gone into production. Electric cars have been frustrated by heavy expensive batteries, long recharging cycles, and short range.
Jenatzy's car had to have its batteries charged before it could do the return kilometre, and there has been little real progress in terms of speed and range. Even with modern sodium-sulphur or nickel-cadmium technology, a 4 ton battery the size of a 550 gallon petrol tank would be needed to provide a family car's 400 mile range and 100 mph performance.
Until Californian air pollution provided the incentive, electric cars seemed destined to occupy the margins of motoring. But now any manufacturer who wants to sell cars on the rich market of the American west coast has to answer California's call for 1.7 million electric cars by the year 2000. The state will demand a proportion of the cars sold must be TLEVs (transitional low emission vehicles), followed by ULEVs (ultra low emission vehicles) in phases up to 1995.
By 2010 seven cars in every ten will need to be electrically powered or, in the legislative jargon, ZEVs (zero emission vehicles). When I asked a senior General Motors executive what would happen if nobody bought the electric cars it had to offer, he said flatly, "We have to sell them."
The law will demand that the quota is sold, at a loss if necessary, on pain of not being allowed to sell anything else on the territory until they are.
Manufacturers the world over, including Renault, Fiat, BMW, Peugeot and Volkswagen are pressing forward with electric developments. General Motors has revealed the unfortunately named Impact, which is designed to keep up with the speed of urban traffic. It can reach 60 mph as quickly as a Jaguar XJ6, has a maximum of 100 mph, and a range of 124 miles. But like Jenatzy's record-breaker of 1899, it still can not do both at once.
GM is reticent about how often its heavyweight batteries would have to be recharged after sprinting to 100 mph. BMW has found that its sodium sulphur batteries are more responsive but they are also more expensive. They need replacing after about 30,000 miles at a cost of £30,000.
Audi has a hybrid full-sized 100 estate which does shopping trips on electricity, and uses its ordinary engine on the motorway. It would not meet California's requirements, but it would do for congested town centres closed off to petrol or diesel vehicles.
Its nickel-cadmium batteries occupy the space normally taken by the spare wheel, last ten years, and provide sufficient energy to drive the car at 30 mph and accelerate to 20 mph in 8 seconds - adequate for town driving. A small auxiliary electric motor drives the power steering and there is a petrol-fed water heater. Audi says the extra cost would be under £10,000, and its operating range at town speeds would be about 20 miles.
The combustion engine takes 45 minutes of main road running to recharge the batteries, and Audi awaits encouragement from local authorities, delivery services, and residents in noisy and smoky streets before making production plans.
The British-designed IAD LA 301, with a 660cc Subaru engine, is ready for production under an arrangement with the Los Angeles department of water and power. Some 10,000 are expected to be built, with a range of 60 miles on a dollar's worth of subsidised off-peak electricity. The most likely price is £15,000.
The Citroen Citela, like the Audi, uses nickel-cadmium batteries with a long life expectancy, giving a range of up to 70 miles. Recharging takes two hours from a standard three-pin plug, or half as long from a specially transformed power supply.
There is space for three adults and a child, in a vehicle the size and weight of the Citroen AX on which it is based. When it goes into production in 1995, Citroen expects it to cost no more than a basic AX, around £6,000 excluding the batteries which account for a further £2,400.
What is needed now, according to PSA chairman Jacques Calvet, is for electricity authorities to start making provision for on-street battery recharging. A pilot scheme is to be run at La Rochelle in 1993, in which 50 Citelas will show their paces, and try out a recharging network of power points installed by EDF the French electricity undertaking. EDF plans a national programme of recharging outlets in French cities by 1995, ready for the start of Citella production if the La Rochelle experiment proves a success.
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