Chrysler Corp. and the local unit of Westinghouse Electric Corp. are expected to announce today that they will team up on the development of an electric vehicle that could turn the corner toward the next generation of automobiles.
Westinghouse declined to comment on the planned announcement, but Tom Kowaleski, a spokesman for Chrysler in Detroit, said the joint development program could advance the technology needed to bring about production of the electric vehicle.
The Big Three automakers have tried for more than 15 years to develop electric cars. But, despite promising signs, the companies have yet to create a commercially viable model that can match the speed and distance of gasoline-powered cars.
The auto industry -- both domestic and foreign -- is putting new emphasis on electric cars, partly as a result of a California law requiring that 2 percent of an automaker's sale be free of emissions by 1998. The percentage is scheduled to rise to 10 percent by 2003.
Mr. Kowaleski said Chrysler has been working with the Electric Power Research Institute for more than a year on the feasibility of moving an electric vehicle into production. He declined to provide additional details, saying they would be provided at a news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group complex in Linthicum.
The Linthicum complex said in a statement released yesterday only that the company will "introduce a new joint development program with a major U.S. automaker."
The release noted, however, that "interested media will be offered the opportunity to test drive/ride the vehicle."
A Westinghouse spokeswoman, Ann Grizzel, declined to elaborate. The Linthicum operation is better known for its production of radar for the F-16 fighter plane and other military electronic equipment.
Top Westinghouse executives have said that the local division would seek to enter the auto industry to reduce its dependence on military contracts.
Richard A. Linder, president of the Electronic Systems Group, said last year that the electric car of the future might be powered by a Westinghouse motor.
Mr. Kowaleski said Chrysler intends to announce its involvement with Westinghouse at a separate "ride and drive press conference" in California today to introduce Chrysler's vehicles that burn alternative fuels.
Mr. Kowaleski said the vehicles will include an electric-powered minivan, cars powered by methanol and other vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.
The Chrysler spokesman said the company is working on what he called the "T.E. van," which involves putting an electric motor into one of the company's popular minivans. He said a van was chosen because of its appeal to a wide range of customers, from individual motorists to corporate fleet managers.
In October, Chrysler joined Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and the U.S. Department of Energy in the formation of a consortium aimed at developing batteries for use in electric vehicles. Mr. Kowaleski said the $260 million research program is funded equally by the federal government and the domestic auto industry.
The research program seeks to develop batteries that could extend the range of electric vehicles while reducing the cost, weight and the frequency of recharging.
Westinghouse has recently expressed interest in developing components for electric cars, saying it planned to apply for a portion of a $12 million federal grant program earmarked for the development of an electric vehicle, said an aide to Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., who led the creation of the fund.
The funds are to be divided into three grants of $4 million each.