Westinghouse strives to boost performance, range of the electric car Company to work with Chrysler Corp.

March 04, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

From zero to 60 in less than 15 seconds.

That's the goal that the engineers at the Westinghouse Electronics Systems Group in Linthicum have set for themselves as they seek to boost the performance of electric vehicles and make them commercially viable by the late 1990s.

As part of a joint venture announced yesterday with Chrysler Corp., Westinghouse is seeking to put more zip in the performance of electric vehicles, which they hope can reach speeds up to 75 mph. They also want to boost the cars' range to 200 miles between battery charges, about double what today's technology allows.

Westinghouse engineering executive L.E. "Ted" Lesster said the two companies will put about $10 million into the effort.

Kelly C. Overman, an executive with the Electronics Systems Group, said yesterday that the company has invested "millions of dollars" in the development of a new propulsion system, concentrating on an advanced electric motor and power controller that could significantly improve the performance of electric vehicles.

Westinghouse demonstrated its technology yesterday by unveiling a silver-gray Dodge Caravan test vehicle powered by an alternating-current electric motor about the size of a 5-gallon bucket. The motor is similar to those the company sells to aircraft manufacturers to provide electric power for planes.

"Before the decade is out, you will see a lot of people driving these vehicles," Mr. Overman said of the battery-powered Dodge.

He said Westinghouse would not build large numbers this year, "but by the end of the decade, this could be a significant business here."

Mr. Overman said it is too soon to say where Westinghouse would build the motors and other components for Chrysler's electric vehicle. The Westinghouse-Chrysler venture doesn't specifically call for the production of electric vehicles, but Tom Kowaleski, a Chrysler spokesman, said the companies hope to build such cars eventually.

The Westinghouse-Chrysler team, like others working on electric vehicles, has its work cut out for it, said David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

To capture the fancy of motorists, Mr. Cole said, the electric car will have to be competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles in every sense. He called Westinghouse's objective of boosting the range of electric vehicles to 200 miles "pretty optimistic."

Mr. Cole said another "major problem" is reducing what he called the "high life-cycle cost" of electric vehicles. Because battery packs need to be replaced every couple of years, he said, the cost per mile of electric vehicles being tested is twice that of conventional vehicles.

The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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