GM to give away thousands of electric vehicles
SANTA BARBARA - General Motors Corp. will give away thousands of golf cart-like electric vehicles to comply with California regulations forcing automakers to sell pollution-free vehicles, GM officials said this week.
Over the next three years, GM will give the vehicles to California businesses and charitable organizations so the automaker can earn zero-emission vehicle credits, which are counted toward the state\'s goal of getting more environmentally friendly vehicles on the road.
Some will also be given away in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, which have tended to follow California\'s lead in tightening environmental standards for the automotive industry, said GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss.
\"Every one you sell, you\'re going to have to sell at a loss,\" Larry Burns, GM vice president of research, development and planning, told Reuters in an interview. The goal is to \"sell as many as you possibly can in three years and pocket the credits, because they\'re not going to go away. California is never going to stop their pursuit of zero emission vehicles.\"
GM contracted a Detroit company called ZevXchange to run distribution and marketing for the vehicles, which will be built and modified by Club Car of Augusta, Georgia, a unit of Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd. The program begins later this year.
After a year, the users have the option of buying the vehicles, which have to be modified with seat belts, windshield wipers and some other safety equipment, said GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss. Club Car will convert those that are not bought back to golf carts to sell on the used market.
California\'s regulations forcing automakers to offer up to 100,000 electric cars and other low-pollution vehicles on the road each year was scheduled to go into effect with the 2003 model year.
But GM won a court injunction delaying that order. Even though GM is confident that the zero-emission standards will be pushed back for years, if ever implemented, they want to book credits as early as possible in case the standards go into effect, officials said.
GM was once the industry leader in electric vehicles. It spent over $1 billion to develop the GM EV-1 electric vehicle in the 1990s. But the EV-1 was expensive and had a limited range of less than 100 miles before it needed hours of recharging time. GM stopped building the EV-1 a few years ago.
DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. have developed their own small electric vehicles to comply with California\'s regulations, rather than depend on an outside supplier.
\"Customers don\'t want to buy electric vehicles and the batteries are expensive,\" Burns said. \"The cost for ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) credits are extremely high. The manufacturer is going to bear that cost.\"
In addition, GM believes that many of the electric vehicles that will come to market are unsafe, with little crash protection. Officials said the golf cart-like electric vehicles that it sells will be for gated communities and businesses free of regular traffic.
Since the the demise of the EV-1, GM has spent billions of dollars on research into fuel cells, which use hydrogen to create electricity with only water and heat as byproducts, offering no pollutants and reduced reliance on imported oil.
Burns said California\'s regulations threaten to divert funds from fuel cell research, which he said holds far more commercial promise. This week, at a GM conference held in Santa Barbara, GM unveiled its latest fuel cell concept car, which Burns said could be on the road by 2010, and in vast numbers and making money before 2020.
But environmental groups say that GM could do much more in the near term, pointing to Toyota and Honda\'s recent hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. They combine a traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor for better fuel efficiency and less emission of carbon dioxide, which is considered a greenhouse gas.
\"I don\'t think anyone\'s clamoring for more golf carts,\" said Kate Simmons, a member of the global warming and energy program with the Sierra Club. \"There are real technologies that exist today that GM could put in their vehicles.\"
GM has said it will offer a limited number of hybrid pickups in 2004, and more hybrid vehicles later.
Story by Michael Ellis
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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