Where are all those electric autos?

When are we going to see more electric cars on the road?What are we waiting for? Charlotte Owen Ann Arbor, Mich.

A former college professor, Arthur Farrell of East Lansing, Mich., drives a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle for which he paid $100 in 1972. What makes it different from most other VW Beetles on the road? Mr. Farrell's car runs on battery power alone.

The only trouble is, the car won't go any farther than 40 miles on a charge and has a top speed of 35 miles on hour. And therein lies the rub.

When people ask about electric cars and why there aren't more of them around, the answer lies in the limited range of the cars with the technology available at a marketable price in today's world. Perhaps several dozen companies in the US now build electric cars of one kind or another, including Comuta-Car of Sebring, Fla., which replaced the Citi-Car of a few years ago. But unless a car has a range of more than 40 or 50 miles, it isn't likely to meet the requirements of more than an infinitessimal number of motorists these days.

There is absolutely no question, however, that more electric cars are on their way. In fact, by the year 2000 -- only 20 years from now -- the industry newsletter, Electric Vehicle Progress, predicts that more than 10 million "electrics" of all types will be in the US traffic mix. Optimistic or not, no one doubts that there is a future, and maybe a big one, for the electric car.

General Motors a few months ago announced that it had licked the battery problem, a major stumbling block to a feasible battery-run vehicle.

"We didn't have any confidence we could build an electric car until we licked the battery problem," says E.M. Estes, president of GM. "now that we have the battery in the barn, we believe we are on our way," he adds.

GM has said it will put an electric vehicle in the showroom by the mid-1980s although it doesn't go on to say what type of vehicle it will be.

In any event, both the federal government and private industry are pursuing the hunt for a viable vehicle that will go at least 100 miles on a battery charge, plus the capability for a large number of recharges before the battery pack has to be replaced -- a costly operation, to be sure.

The GM car, according to Mr. Estes, is expected to go at least 30,000 miles on a set of batteries.

Thus, you can look for more electric cars during the decade of the 1980's -- certainly far more than in the decade just past.

So while there may not be "an electric" in every garage, it's more and more likely that there may be one beside you at the red traffic light up ahead, especially in the city.

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