Electric Cars for Maryland

September 10, 1992

You might start seeing electric cars on Maryland roads in just a few years. A consortium of Westinghouse, Chrysler, Baltimore Gas & Electric and the state of Maryland has won a $4 million federal grant to evaluate electric vehicles and devise a plan for producing non-polluting cars and vans.

Making this project work is important for the state's economic development. Maryland is going to be hit hard by deep federal cuts in defense spending: it is the fifth most defense-dependent state in the U.S. Of special concern is Westinghouse and its big electronic systems group in Linthicum. Pure electric and hybrid vehicles have been identified as a future market that might keep that plant going strong into the next century.

Since March, Westinghouse and Chrysler have been working on an electric vehicle that can zip along a highway at up to 75 mph with a range of 200 miles between battery charges. The new federal grant will enable the two to develop details on how to manufacture electric vehicles.

The task is daunting. Advances in car batteries are essential, but there are other hurdles facing the consortium, too. Such as how do you design and where do you locate battery-charging stations? How do you re-train local suppliers so they can get a big chunk of the value-added business when production of these cars begins? How can you increase production levels of electric cars by a factor of 100 yet also reduce costs by a similar factor?

The Big Three automakers in Detroit are focusing on coming up with improved batteries; the Maryland consortium is concentrating on evaluating electric vehicles and devising the most cost-efficient way to produce them for the mass market.

Development of an electric car is government-driven. What is propelling Detroit is a California mandate that requires zero-pollution emissions standards in some cars beginning in 1998.

This state's role is to work with auto suppliers to get them ready for the electric era and sow the seeds for a huge local manufacturing market of the future. The federal grant should give Westinghouse and local suppliers a head start. If they take advantage of this opportunity, they could light up the automotive industry of the 21st century.

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