DETROIT – They say General Motors Corp.’s announcement that it will produce and sell an electric car in the 1990s is not only a major coup for GM, but is also a spark for Detroit’s technological image.
Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. are all experimenting with an electric power plant for a car, but no Japanese maker has been willing to take the plunge GM took early last week.
“It’s a good image booster for GM,” said Cynthia Certo, an analyst with Integrated Automotive Resources in Wayne, Pa.
Jim Wangers of Automotive Marketing Consultants in Warren, Mich., said: “This shows they mean business.
“They can’t play games now. This is one of GM chairman! Bob Stempel’s pet projects, and it had better be a good one.”
GM, citing competitive reasons, won’t say much about the car other than that it will be built in Lansing, Mich., at what is now the Reatta Craft Center.
The Buick Reatta – which GM has said it will discontinue after the 1991 model year – is being built there using a work station assembly process that produces just under three cars an hour.
The Reatta was as close to handmade as Detroit’s cars get and, analysts say, GM will want that type of craftsmanship applied to its electric vehicle, which is based on a year-old concept car GM calls the Impact.
When GM introduced the Impact at a Los Angeles auto show last year, the company said the car could go from zero to 100 kilometres in eight seconds and could travel up to 200 kilometres at an average speed of 90 kilometres per hour between rechargings.
The company says not a lot has changed since then.
“As far as the guts of it, it the electric car! is the same now as the Impact,” GM spokesman John Hartnett said.
Because the Reatta plant has a capacity to build 25,000 cars a year, analysts are speculating that GM plans to produce and sell that many Impacts. They say the car could hit the market in fall 1992 as a 1993 model with a $20,000 (U.S.) sticker price.
The car would run on 10-volt batteries – 32 of them – powering two motors for each front wheel. An “inverter” would convert the batteries’ direct current to alternating current.
But the Impact also has some bugs. Its lead-acid batteries would only last an estimated 32,000 kilometres and would cost $1,500 to replace.
Analysts say that steep replacement cost could scare off buyers, so GM will either have to subsidize a portion of that cost or develop a battery pack that will last longer.
Dave Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan, said GM’s charge toward an electric car is probably fueled by proposals of clean-air and engine- efficiency standards.
A California law will require in 1998 that 2 per cent of each auto maker’s fleet sold within that state be composed of cars or trucks with no tailpipe emissions. In 2003, that requirement will rise to 10 per cent.
“The only car that will qualify under that standard will have to be electric,” Mr. Cole said.
BY MICHAEL D. TOWLE Fort Worth Star-Telegram