Under clean air requirements adopted in California, 2% of new automobiles offered for sale by major manufacturers must be entirely free of emissions by 1998. In practical terms, that means electric cars, but a debate is raging among environmentalists, government officials and manufacturers about the necessity of a mandate and the readiness of electric vehicles to meet consumer demands.
Three years may seem like a long way off, but the fight today is nonetheless intense as factions battle over the implementation of the mandate.
Should auto makers be forced to sell electric cars in California in 1998?
Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude:
“The answer is yes, we should. . . . The electric vehicle is our best hope of cleaning the air. We’ve eliminated most of the air pollution from industrial sources. Most of the smog is coming from automobiles. . . [The electric car] is available right now. You can get a reliable, useful electric vehicle. All they have to do is produce them. There is no question about the technology. The batteries are useful for 80 to 100 miles without recharging. That’s plenty of range.”
Richard Katz, assemblyman (D-Sylmar)
“The opposition is the big three auto manufacturers, the same guys who would not have air bags in the cars if it was still up to them. Detroit has the same, cover-their-eyes mentality about electric vehicles. . . . There are also economic reasons for Detroit to not like it. The electric vehicles will be built in California, while conventional vehicles will be built in Detroit.
Wendy James, manager of the electric transportation division for Southern California Edison:
“From the refueling perspective, we don’t envision any problem in making the 1998 date. . . . We are talking about a large appliance. It’s not a lot different than when central air came on line. . . . If we can convince enough people to charge between 9 p.m. and noon, that should really help rates go down. It’s very important to mention that Southern California Edison has committed to not to raise rates to pay for the electric vehicle program.”
Max Gates, spokesman for the American Automobile Manufacturing Assn., which represents Ford, Chrysler and General Motors:
“Our members believe electric cars have a great potential for the future, but electric vehicles are not quite ready for the broad market. The 1998 mandate for sales runs the risk of undermining the reputation of electric vehicles before they have the chance to get established. Right now, the electric vehicles are too expensive and don’t have the range or power that most consumers want.”
Anita Mangles, executive director for Californians Against Hidden Taxes:
“Absolutely not, at least not the way it stands now. . . . The fact of the matter is, if people wanted these cars and the technology was there, there would be investors lined up around the corner. If they could do that, they would not need a mandate. Even experts in the electric-car industry have said the mandate will not have a measurable effect on the smog in the L.A. basin. Not only will you be paying three times as much for a car that performs only one-third as well as a conventional car, there will be a negligible effect on air quality.”