It has no tiger in its tank, but electric car purrs

August 07, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Three, two, one -- as the countdown hits zero, Kelly Overman stomps down hard on the "gas" pedal and the Dodge Caravan tears away from the stop sign.

"Thirty," Mr. Overman says a few seconds later to a passenger staring down at a stop watch. "Forty . . . fifty . . . sixty."

Zero to 60 mph in less than nine seconds.

It's not the kind of speed that's going to impress drag-racing fans at the Hagerstown Speedway, but that was not Mr. Overman's goal yesterday morning as he put the electric-powered minivan through its paces.

The general manager of systems development and engineering at the Westinghouse Electric Corp. division in Linthicum was out to dispel any false impressions that the electric car was a glorified golf cart. He wanted to show that it could safely merge into beltway traffic and run with the best of them.

In yesterday's unscientific test, held on an isolated stretch of roadway in the Woodlawn section of Baltimore County, the van carried four adult passengers. Powered by a 107-horsepower engine, it reached 30 mph in 4.8 seconds, 40 in 6.2, and 50 in 7.5.

By comparison, a 275-horsepower Pontiac Firebird Trans Am V-8 posted a 0-to-60 time of 6.3 seconds, according to a Road & Track magazine test.

But there was no shifting of gears, just push-buttons on the --, and the speedometer steadily moved higher and higher with no more than a gentle hum from beneath the hood.

Mr. Overman conceded that the Chrysler-made van was equipped with more peppy lead-acid batteries, which don't offer the 90-mile range of the somewhat more sluggish nickel-iron power packs.

Yesterday's demonstration was staged by the Chesapeake Consortium, a partnership composed of Westinghouse, Chrysler, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the state.

Formed last year, the consortium was one of four to receive a $4 million development grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The companies and the state have added $4.5 million.

Industry officials said it could be 10 or 15 years before the electric vehicle was ready to replace the family car.

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