TED Case Studies

The Electric Car

Number: 474

Mnemonic: ELECTRIC

Name: Electric Car

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I. Identification

1. The Issue

In urban and suburban areas across the United States and Europe, transit authorities are implementing pilot programs to test a new, more environmentally friendly way to travel from point A to point B: Electric Vehicles (EVs). San Francisco's Bay Area Transit (BART), in partnership with the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, raised $1.41 million in private donations to fund a two-year demonstration including 40 electric car stations(1). Participating commuters drive EVs, or "station cars" as they are often called, to and from work. The goal of the demonstration is to roadtest the claims that electric vehicles offer greater convenience, cost-effectiveness, and safety than conventional cars. The most highly contested claim is that station cars increase mobility. Proponents argue that they are more convenient than regular cars because they offer travelers a means of transportation between home and mass transit stations without the hassle of parking and maintenance. Critics contend that they deprive drivers of the flexibility that comes from ownership. Although few dispute the fact that station cars produce far less air, noise, and water pollution than regular cars, it is uncertain whether consumers will be willing to sacrifice decreased personal mobility for cleaner air. Are people willing to trade transportation freedom for dependency on the public transit system? Furthermore, are automobile manufacturers willing to invest in research and marketing to produce an electric car that consumers may not even buy? A cost-benefit analysis of replacing gasoline-powered automobiles with electric vehicles explores these questions while illuminating the important inter-relationship between the environment and trade.

2. Description

In San Francisco, sixty-nine commuters are experiencing firsthand the latest in high-tech transportation. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority is implementing a demonstration program of 40 electric vehicles known as "station cars" (2). Participating commuters drive two-passenger vehicles that the BART leased from the Norwegian Personal Independent Vehicle Company (PIVCO). The goal of the program is to test the viability of electric cars for short trips. Passengers drive the cars to and from work and on weekend and evening errands.

PIVCO developed the CityBee, or CITI (Clean Intelligent Transportation, Inc.) as it is known in the San Francisco project, in cooperation with industrial partners and research institutes, including Hydro Aluminum, Oslo Energi, Polytechnic University of Zurich, the Norwegian Post, Statoil, and Telenor. PICVO has agreed to allow 27 of the newest CITI's to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area through the end of 1998. Green Motorworks will lease the cars in the private sector following the BART demonstration. CALSTART, the California Advanced Transportation Consortium, is a non-profit organization made up of 140 groups, including electronic, defense, aerospace technology firms, vehicle manufacturers, transit districts, gas and electric utilities, public agencies, as well as labor and environmental groups. CALSTART is leading the effort to locate manufacturing sites for electric vehicles in California and investors to help finance the effort.

Transit industry officials believe that electric vehicles will increase public transportation ridership. Increased access to public transportation will decrease reliance on gasoline-powered automobiles, making the interstates less crowded and emissions less concentrated. Proponents of electric cars argue that EVs produce less air, noise, and water pollution, and if aggressively marketed can substantially reduce congestion typical of the rush-hour commute. In sum, it is expected that the widespread use of EVs will have dual benefits: improving the commuter experience and cleaning up the environment. That is what the BART demonstration seeks to prove.

The Station Car Idea

Rush-hour traffic makes the urban commute difficult and time-consuming. People who reside in close proximity to mass transit stations have the luxury of riding the bus or rail to and from work in order to avoid the headache of gridlock. Drivers in less populated, suburban areas, however, lack convenient access to public transit stations and are often forced to drive the full distance to work despite the abundance of metropolitan public transportation facilities near urban workplaces. According to BART statistics, thousands of commuters drive rather than take public transportation to their workplaces located only an average of one to five miles from a BART station (3). The situation is similar in metropolitan areas across the country. Using public transportation is worthwhile to non-urban residents only when there are more stations located within convenient range of their homes.

Station cars provide the link between home and mass transit stations. According to the National Station Car Association, "a station car is a small, quiet, non-polluting vehicle, small enough to park face-in to the curb or 'stacked' in parking areas." Station car lots are situated adjacent to mass transit locations and high activity areas, which facilitates their use by commuters. People can drive station cars from home to the nearest mass transit area, board a train or a bus, and never have to worry about traffic or parking. After work, they can rent another station car to drive home and to use for short trips to shops or entertainment centers.

Proponents argue that station cars offer the same on-the-spot convenience of taxis, but can also be reserved in advance like rental cars, maximizing transportation options and flexibility. Travelers, licensed to drive station cars, obtain "smart" cards which record individual transportation needs such as vehicle type (car, truck, van, etc.), open and activate the selected vehicle, and keep track of usage time (4). The customer's bank account is debited daily for use of both the station car and the mass transit system, eliminating the need for cash or the hassle of paying a monthly credit card bill.

The Market

According to the National Station Car Association, four segments of the commuter population benefit from station car usage.

  • Commuters who park and ride. EVs take up much less space and are emission-free, eliminating the harzardous fumes that are produced by "cold starts."
  • Travelers who would use mass transit, but cannot find parking. Facilities typically fill up early!
  • People whose destination is one-quarter to 10 miles away from their home. If a commuter station were conveniently located, they would use public transportation.
  • Individuals who do not use mass transit because they need access to a car during the day.
  • While station cars in theory appear to offer an effective resolution to the suburban commuter's dilemma, it is uncertain whether today's Americans will be willing to embrace a means of transportation that seems so foreign to them. Americans subscribe to the belief that if personal automobile ownership is within one's financial means and the mass transit system is inaccessible or inconvenient, car ownership is preferable to reliance on public transportation. The station car concept challenges this notion because it suggests that suburban commuters from all economic strata can afford to drive low-cost station cars to and from mass transit locations and that station cars make public transportation more convenient.

    Public assessment of the convenience of station cars is dependent upon several factors. According to Better World Magazine writer Tom Kee, there are at least five important components necessary to the successful marketing of electric vehicles:

  • Manufacturing Cost
  • Retail Price
  • Operating and Maintenance Costs
  • Performance
  • Range
  • Price, range, and performance are the factors about which consumers are most concerned. Manufacturing cost, of course, will play a large role in determining the price passed along to consumers. Operating and maintenance costs, at least of station cars, will be paid by mass transit authorities. Boasting life-expectancies of twenty years, however, neither station cars nor personal electric cars are expected to be expensive or difficult to maintain. Unlike conventional automobiles, the electric car has few parts to service. The average electrician has the skills required to repair any electrical problems which might occur. Yet, the cost of updating the electrical system every few years as needed is likely to be expensive. Costs will vary, depending on the extent of changes that need to be made.

    Manufacturers are constantly searching for ways to develop a more efficient consumer-compatible automobile in terms of performance and range. Noting that distance and speed are important to consumers, manufacturers, such as the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, are breaking new ground every day in the area of battery technology. According to Robert T. Hayden, executive director of the Electrical Vehicle Association of the Americas,

    "The commercial presence of electric cars and trucks will grow as vehicle and battery technology continue to improve, recharging and servicing infrastructure is put in place, and cost of production decreases."

    Major American automobile manufacturers like Ford, Chyrsler, and General Motors have introduced electric vehicle models. For more information, see the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. Many foreign car companies are also beginning to market electric car models. At the Toyota Motor Show on October 22, 1997, Toyota unveiled its "E-Com" or electric commuter vehicle. As more and more manufacturers enter the market for electric cars, greater improvements are likely to be made in vehicle performance which will to attract more buyers. As price levels become more comparable to the cost of conventional cars, more consumers are likely to purchase electric cars, especially when the cost of fueling a conventional car is taken into consideration. PIVCO electric models are available for as low as $10,000.


    Station cars meet California's new zero emission requirements set forth in the Clean Air Act. In addition to decreasing pollution and improving traffic conditions, station cars offer safety, reliability, and convenience that matches or rivals that of conventional cars.

    A study sponsored by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) found that electric cars are, in fact, safer than conventional cars. The report compared electric and gasoline-powered cars in eleven different safety categories, including fire, burns, collision, refueling, rollover, toxic fumes, electric shock, noise and manufacturing defects. The results showed that electric vehicles exceed conventional cars in all categories, except in the risk of collision and electric shock, in which both types of vehicles exhibit approximately the same likelihood. Of course, driving an electric car does not reduce one's chances of getting into an accident, but the risk of electric shock can be lessened.

    "The high voltage circuits in current EV designs are self-contained and entirely isolated from the passenger compartment, other electric conductors on board the vehicle, and from the vehicle chassis itself (unlike the battery in a conventional ICE which uses the frame as grounding). EVs further isolate sources of electricity by using automatic disconnection devices in the event of a malfunction to disconnect the main propulsion battery from all electrical components in the vehicle."
    Interestingly, the study also claims that "replacing current gas-powered vehicles with EVs could also reduce property damage costs related to auto mishaps by up to $600 million annually." Therefore, increased safety can also save the consumer money.

    Station car advocates claim that in addition to being safer, they are also more reliable than conventional automobiles. Electric cars are low maintenance (6). As long as the battery is charged and the electrical system is up-to-date, the car runs problem-free. When standard cars breakdown, owners take sole responsibility for their repair, which can range from a simple tire change to a complete overhaul. Station cars offer additional reliability because they are serviced entirely by the mass transit authorities. Improperly functioning cars may be returned to the nearest station car location and simply exchanged for another. In addition, station car usage will indirectly yield great benefits to the transit consumer. According to the National Station Car Association, as transit stations become more accessible, ". . . fares would go down, ridership up, and the community would be more willing to build new and expand existing rail systems."


    Although convenience, in terms of hassle-free maintenance and accessibility, is noted as an advantage to using electric vehicles, current models are rather inconvenient. Until more charging stations are built and improvements in battery technology allow for greater range, electric cars usage cannot equal the gasoline-powered automobile in convenience. If effective marketing and legislated environmental regulations increase the demand for electric cars, however, more charging stations will be built to eliminate the problem.

    On the other hand, station cars may turn out to be as convenient as advocates claim. The idea is a good one. Mass transit stations are under-utilzed. By purchasing station cars to bridge the gap between commuters' homes and mass transit stations, authorities can simultaneously save the money that might have been spent building additional stations and earn more profits by increasing ridership. Furthermore, major employers can meet their statutory air quality regulations mandates to implement employee trip reduction programs (carpooling, etc.) by cooperating with transit authorities to subsidize commuters. For example, Sybase, Inc. of Emeryville, California leased nine cars for use by their employees between October 1995 and August 1996.

    BART Background Information

    The Bay Area Rapid Transit system extends 81 miles and serves three million people in four counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and San Mateo. The trains operate along four lines of double track and stop in thirty-seven stations. BART express buses connect outlying areas of Contra Costa and Alameda to five East Bay stations (7).

    In 1995, BART was on-time an average of 96 percent. Current weekday ridership is approximately 250,000. According to BART statistics, use of the system is three-times more efficient than use of an automobile in terms of energy consumption and ten times as efficient during the rush hour commute. Parking is free at all stations, except at Lake Merrit, where there is a $.25 charge. There are currently 33,708 parking spaces available system-wide. Fares range from $1.00 to $4.00 (for one-way trips).

    The BART Project

    The BART station car demonstration is using the PIVCO CITI prototype, which is 2.9 meters (9.2 ft.) long and 1.5 meters (5 ft.) wide, smaller than the average utility vehicle because its backseat is replaced by trunk space (8). As of August 1997, there were sixty-nine participants in the program. BART provides electricity free of charge to station car users at stations around the area. Local power distribution centers are located at each charging facility and provide both 208 and 120 volt receptacles (9). The CITI, or CityBee as it is known in Europe, requires less than 15 amps at either voltage. All of the charging stations are conductive, similar to the connection made when a household appliance is plugged into an electrical socket. One station, Walnut Creek, offers both conductive and inductive charging. In inductive charging, a primary coil is inserted into a slot in the car passing an alternating current through a secondary coil located inside the car (10).

    The 1996 CITI can reach a top speed of 65 mph. Its range at a constant 40 mph speed is 55 miles and 40 miles in stop-and-go situations. Improvements have been made to the 1995 model, which could previously only travel up to 50 mph and 45 miles at a constant 40 mph speed. Further improvements are anticipated with more research and testing. In fact, one of the latest models is capable of traveling at freeway speeds at a range of 60-80 miles per charge (11).

    3. Related Cases

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    German Auto Recycling

    Japanese Air Pollution

    Sulfur Pollution EC

    US Auto Taxes and Trade

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    4. Draft Author: Amy E. Croot, January 1998

    II. Legal Clusters

    Foreign companies have accused California of using restrictive emissions legislation to erect foreign trade barriers. In fact, the state of California is free to establish independent regulations under state and federal law. Since California is not a signatory to the General Agreement on Tarriffs and Trade (GATT), as is the United States, the state of California is not subject to GATT's rules and may legally continue to effect California's market for automobile imports, albeit indirectly. It is in California's best interests to follow GATT rules, especially since California's economy is the sixth largest in the world. Arguably, however, California's clean air initiatives do not represent non-tariff barriers to international trade.

    According to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) trading principles, a signatory nation is prohibited from the following:

  • Discrimination under Article 1 of the GATT agreement;
  • Erecting trade barriers;
  • Unpredictable trade behavior;
  • Non-competitive trade practices (including dumping)
  • California's Clean Air Initiatives were implemented with the purpose of improving the quality of air in the state, not to discriminate against foreign automakers. In fact, the indirect effects of California's air quality legislation on trade are indiscriminate. They affect domestic and foreign manufacturers equally in compliance with Article 3 of the GATT treaty. Since U.S. automakers are also forced to comply with California's emission standards, the California legislation is not in violation of the WTO's Most-Favored Nation (MFN) policy.

    International Implications

    Japanese automobile manufacturers were the first to voice objections to California's clean air legislation. They complained that California's laws would deprive them of a substantial market in California. It is true that California's emission standards will reduce the number of automobiles imported from Japan and other foreign automakers as long as they fail to meet the strict criteria outlined in the California legislation. It is important to remember, however, that California's laws also affect domestic manufacturers. In effect, California's clean air legislation forces car companies to redirect their research toward the development of a more environmentally friendly vehicle.

    California is setting an interesting precedent in this case. Despite criticism, California is legally justified to regulate and enforce statewide emissions standards. The state of California is not a party to the GATT agreement and therefore does not fall under its jurisdiction. The United States, as a signatory country, is prevented from erecting trade barriers, but the federal government is constitutionally prohibited from infringing on states' rights to establish laws to govern their communities. California's Clean Air Initiatives are not intended to restrict foreign trade. The goals are to improve the air quality in the state, to set an example for other states, and to encourage the marketing of an environmentally-friendly technology that can be readily made available to consumers: the electric car.

    5. Discourse and Status: Agree and In Progress

    6. Forum and Scope: USA (California) and Sub-State

    7. Decision Breadth:

    While it is difficult to calculate accurately the number of people affected by the replacement of gasoline-powered automobiles with electric cars, the impact of the case can be broken down into smaller, more measureable categories.

    Globally and Nationally

    It is estimated that 75 percent of the American population resides in metropolitan areas (12). In the San Francisco area alone, there are three million people. An average of 250,000 people a day ride BART trains on a given week. If the programs being demonstrated in San Francisco are expanded to include more station cars and are implemented nation-wide, assuming they yield positive results, they would significantly reduce traffic and improve air quality in cities across the United States. If these programs are then expanded worldwide, they could produce far-reaching global benefits.

    According to a report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), called the National Air Quality and Emissions Report of 1996, air quality has improved since 1970 without an accompanying decline in economic prosperity, "illustrat[ing] that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand." Although U.S. population has increased by 29 percent since 1970 and vehicle mileage has increased 121 percent, national total emissions for six major air pollutants including carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide has declined 32 percent. The report indicates, however, that "despite continued improvements in air quality, approximately 46 million people lived in counties that did not meet the air quality standards for at least one of the six criteria pollutants in 1996." For more information about automobile emissions, see "Auto Emissions: An Overview", a fact sheet published by the EPA.

    California's Clean Air Act represents an effort to expand upon the air pollution control programs intiated by the EPA in the 1970s. Since the 1970 legislation, cars have emitted 70-90 percent less pollution (13). In 1990, Congress amended the legislation. Despite progress made since 1970 in reducing emissions, vehicle travel has doubled. The 1990 law is expected to decrease vehicle emissions by over 40 percent.

    According to an EPA report titled "Motor Vehicles and the 1990 Clean Air Act", "the California Pilot Program is designed to encourage production of clean fuels and vehicles." States across the U.S., including New York and Massachusetts are attempting to implement emission standard requirements like those in California. If more American cities toughen emissions laws, the fight against air pollution will reach new levels of success, just as the widespread use of unleaded fuel dramatically reduced the automobile's contribution to worldwide lead emissions by 95 percent since 1970.


    Since 40 station cars are being tested in the San Francisco BART demonstration and each car seats two, up to 80 people may be affected directly by the case. As of August 1, 1997, 69 people were participating in the program. Commuters in the San Francisco Bay area will also derive positive benefits from decreased congestion, less noise pollution, and cleaner air should the project be expanded to include more electric vehicles. It is difficult to witness drastic improvements in a large metropolitan area when only 40 cars are being used. Although the San Francisco Bay Area is home to over three million people, only approximately 250,000 people use the system on a given weekday. Expanding the program to accomodate station car depots in ten or more outlying stations of the 37 total stations in the BART system would extend BART's reach to a significantly larger number of the suburban population. Greater use of electric cars, as opposed to standard automobiles, will decrease emission pollutants, increase transit ridership, reduce traffic concentrations, and, as an added bonus, improve the quality of transit facilities without necessitating an increase in fares. In sum, increased ridership will decrease air pollution, while producing greater income for the BART system.

    8. Legal Standing: California Clean Air Initiative

    California has been a pioneer in air pollution reduction. In the 1950s, a California researcher linked smog in the Los Angeles area to automobile pollution. At the time, new cars emitted 13 grams per mile (gpm) of hydrocarbons (HC), 3.6 gpm of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 87 gpm of carbon monoxide (CO). See Table 1 below. While current federal emissions regulations demonstrate an increased recognition of the importance of improved air quality, California's more stringent regulations lead the way into the future of effective air pollution management (14).

    TABLE 1:
    Emissions Regulations

    1950 Federal 1997 California 1996
    Hydrocarbons (gpm) 13 .25 .125
    Nitrogen Oxides (gpm) 3.6 .4 .4
    Carbon Monoxide (gpm) 87 3.4 3.4

    III. Geographic Clusters

    9. Geographic Locations

    a. Geographic Domain: North America

    b. Geographic Site: Western North America

    c. Geographic Impact: USA (California)

    10. Sub-National Factors: Yes

    California's restrictive emission requirements highlight an interesting jurisdictional issue. Although California has the constitutional right to set its own environmental standards, environmental problems cannot always be contained within state borders. For example, although California seeks to improve its air quality through the maximum two percent emission requirement, it cannot prevent air pollution from Mexico or Arizona from infiltrating its borders.

    Likewise, California's air quality restrictions have important implications for the automobile industry as a whole. A single state, California, is affecting the production activity of both foreign and domestic automobile manufacturers through restrictive air quality legislation. Recognizing that they will lose a significant market in California and foreseeing that California's Clean Air legislation may be adopted in other states, foreign and domestic car producers are opening production lines to the manufacture of electric cars. Therefore, one might argue that California's Clean Air Act is a sub-national action that has global implications, especially since California has the sixth largest economy in the world.

    11. Type of Habitat: Temperate

    IV. Trade Clusters

    12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard

    California's Clean Air Initiatives impose strict emissions standards demanding that effective in 1996 two percent of auto manufacturers' vehicles emit zero pollutants.

    13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: Indirect

    California's efforts to reduce pollution and increase resource utilization do not reflect a purposeful anti-trade policy, rather they are pro-environment. The accusations made by foreign automobile manufacturers that California is erecting trade barriers overlook the earnest goals of the emissions reduction mandate. The objective is to encourage the development of more environmentally friendly transportation, not to disrupt the automobile manufacturing market. California's clean air regulations indirectly affect the automobile industry. Car companies that want to remain competitive are forced to design, test, and manufacture an electronic vehicle that meets California standards and consumer expectations.

    14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

    a. Directly Related to Product: Yes (Cars)

    California's clean emission mandate, while reducing air pollution, will impact trade relations with automobile manufacturers worldwide. It is expected that as a result of California's strict standards production of the electric car will increase, leading to a further reduction of air pollution. The extension of station car programs across the U.S. will decrease congestion and lead to greater use of, and improvements in, mass transit systems. It is also possible that while the initiative may increase the demand for electric cars, increased reliance on public transportation may shrink the market for personal automobiles, forcing manufacturers to re-orient their production priorities.

    b. Indirectly Related to Product: Yes (Oil)

    Oil-producing countries may also be expected to complain that developing, marketing, and legally mandating the replacement of gas-powered automobiles with electric cars will decrease American purchases of foreign oil. Not only will California's Clean Air Initiatives affect the products manufactured by automobile companies, but it will also decrease the demand for gasoline, decreasing the market price for oil and the number of gas stations. Most importantly, the United States will become less reliant on gasoline, increasing American leverage vis-a-vis the Middle Eastern countries.

    c. Not Related to Product: No

    d. Related to Process: Yes (Air Pollution)

    Electric cars alter the process of automobile propulsion because rather than relying on today's gasoline refining and distribution systems, electric cars run on electricity, extracted from power plants. Emissions are generated and controlled at the plants (15). Critics voice objections to the amount of pollution emitted from the power plants. Yet, if the car batteries are recharged at night, electrical energy and consumption can be better distributed. Lower peak energy consumption will help the plants to operate constantly and more efficiently. Furthermore, it is easier to control pollution when it is generated in easily identifiable areas, like power plants.

    15. Trade Product Identification: Automobile

    16. Economic Data: Cost-Benefit Analysis

    Parking Facilities

    According to the National Station Car Association, the average U.S. mass transit lot holds 300,000 spaces. Conventional cars cover 3.5 times the surface area of a compact station car. The average parking facility requires 300 sq. ft. per vehicle, including the parking space, aisles, and medians at a cost of approximately $8,000. Since 3.5 station cars can fit in the space of only one conventionally parked car, station cars take up less space and cost less to park. The remaining land can be used for more cost-effective functional purposes. In structural lots, the station car's height of only 5 ft. means that parking levels can be built closer together making room for even more cars. Overall, the cost of parking station cars is one-third to one-quarter lower than the cost of storing traditional cars.

    If all commuter lots are converted to station car parking areas, in excess of one million electric cars could be parked at any given time. Assuming that on average there is one passenger per car, mass transit usage would increase by 705,000. And, ". . . the space that delivered one passenger in a conventionally parked car could now deliver 5.25 passengers for a total of 1.58 million riders a day."

    If the converted lots are filled and each station car driver is billed an average of $4 per rental, mass transit authorities would earn a revenue of $6.3 million per day and a total of $1.9 billion per year (counting 300 work days). Revenues would increase further as more stations are created in high activity areas, attracting more transit customers.


    Maintenance and storage costs are shouldered by the transit authorities, not the consumer. Consumers are likely to defray a portion of those costs through higher rental rates and fares, but the public sector takes primary responsibility for vehicle and facility up-keep, subsidized by consumer taxes.

    When cleaning, "queuing," and charging costs are taken into consideration, station cars are potentially more expensive than conventional cars. Real costs are uncertain because researchers are still searching for more cost-efficient ways to develop the equipment necessary for maintaining electric vehicle performance. The cost of converting conventional parking lots into electric car stations remains uncertain, but it will most likely be expensive. Until those costs are tallied, it will be difficult to determine if the benefits derived from reduced environmental clean-up, gasoline, and transportation costs will make electric cars more or less economically efficient.

    Although the electronics system must be updated rather frequently, the station car is designed to last for up to 20 years. Its light-weight, high-impact, strong aluminum two-piece frame can be easily replaced and recycled and does not require painting. While standard automobiles require up to 10,000 parts, the electric car is composed of as few as 1,500 (as many parts as are found in an engine of the typical car). Its primary components are:

  • a small battery, appropriate for the short trips for which station cars are designed
  • electromechanical brakes (many 1998 advanced models feature regenerative brakes; the motor helps brake the vehicle generating electricity to charge the battery)
  • a controller, which regulates the battery's discharge to the motor
  • mini-motors, located in each wheel
  • Because the cars are battery, rather than fuel-powered, no harmful, carcinogenic toxins are emitted into the atmosphere. In fact, there are no liquids in the electric car to accidentally spill or release into the atmosphere, except for windshield washer fluid.

    Many dispute the claim that lead acid batteries are less harmful to the environment than fuel-powered engines. The Electric Vehicle Association of America drafted a critical response to a study put out by Carnegie Mellon University, refuting the claims that tailpipe emissions can be directly compared to battery production-based lead emissions. The EVAA Report contends that battery production facilities are not as threatening to health because they are located in non-densely populated areas, limiting the public's exposure to lead emissions.

    Factory emissions are easier to control. Emissions from lead mining and smelting are mainly "slag," solid, inert materials free of negative environmental effects. In fact, five-sixths of smelting and recyling-related emissions are in the form of manageable solids and liquids. Harmful particulate emissions occur primarily in controlled, static environments such as production facilities, and do not collect in mobile environments like the automobile tailpipe.

    Researchers approximate that eight ounces of waste, most of which is solid, are generated from recycling the average lead acid battery. An estimated 130 tons of waste accumulates from recycling the lead batteries of 547,000 vehicles assuming that 50 percent of the batteries are made from a recycled product. The lead emissions are, therefore, quite low. Despite the fact that 349 million vehicles have been added to the world's fleet since 1970, environmental lead exposure has decreased. In sum, the emissions generated from the controlled production of lead batteries is considerably less harmful than critics contend. Lead emissions from battery factories and mining are less harmful to the environment than the lead emitted from gasoline-powered vehicles.


    Whereas gasoline prices are subject to frequent fluctuations contingent upon the climate of U.S. relations with Middle Eastern suppliers, electricity is widely available and inexpensive. If the U.S. conserves oil and uses electricity to power cars, the U.S. can greatly reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The increased geopolitical security that comes from replacing gasoline with electricity and the cheaper cost of electricity combine to make station cars more cost-efficient.

    Road Space

    Traffic problems in urban areas appear to be accelerating in spite of widespread road expansion projects. The reduced length of the station car, however, allows more cars to travel on busy roads without sacrificing comfort (16). Since few trips involve more that two people, cargo space and occupancy are not greatly affected by the shorter length of the car.

    Household Costs

    Sixty-percent of households own two or more cars (17). The advantage to automobile ownership is the instant mobility that it provides. Yet, the typical car-owner spends only 3.26% of the year in the car, based on an average total travel distance of 10,000 miles at 35 miles per hour. Although a five-seater has the potential to provide 43,800 seat-hours of travel per year, only an average of 1.2 people ride in the car at once, adding up to just 343 hours seat-hours or .78% of full capacity. The National Station Car Association study calculates the typical cost per hour of use for several household goods and services. The car is the least cost-efficient at $14.50 an hour. Electric heating, by comparison, costs the consumer only $.33 per hour. Station cars are more cost effective than conventional cars because they provide average utilized seat space and are available for use by multiple people, rather than a single family, both of which better maximize automobile usage.


    The market price of electric vehicles is becoming more and more compatible with conventional cars. Some companies advertise electric vehicle costs as low as $10,000. Furthermore, manufacturers are teaming up with battery experts to find less expensive ways to increase the range of electric cars. Once battery technology improves, the time and money saved in visits to the gas station and mechanic will make the time and effort spent re-charging seem miniscule.

    17. Impact of Trade Restriction: High

    California's Clean Air Initiatives impose strict emissions standards demanding that effective in 1998 two percent of auto manufacturers' vehicles emit zero pollutants (New York and Massachusetts have similar laws). Both domestic and foreign automakers must produce affordable electric cars that can meet both consumer needs and California's environmental standards or face a decline in automobile trade. In fact, both domestic and foreign automakers have already introduced electric car models.

    18. Industry Sector: Manufacturing (Durables)

    19. Exporter and Importer: Japan and USA

    V. Environment Clusters

    20. Environmental Problem Type: Air Pollution

    21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species: Many

    22. Resource Impact and Effect: High and Product

    23. Urgency and Lifetime: Low and 100s of Years

    24. Substitutes:

    Electric cars are recyclable and conserve gasoline.

    VI. Other Factors

    25. Culture:

    The automobile has been an important component of American culture since Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The Model-T first rolled off the assembly line in 1908. Since then, the American lifestyle has thrived on the mobility and convenience that personal automobiles provide and public transportation has failed to offer. On the whole, Americans take pride in the sense of freedom, independence, and status that car ownership provides. Electric cars are likely to eventually replace the gas-powered vehicle of the twentieth century as the personal automobile of the future. There is no reason why electric cars must infringe on the car owner's mobility.

    26. Trans-Boundary Issues:

    California's Clean Air Initiatives will either decrease foreign car manufacturers' sales in the United States or force foreign car companies to produce affordable, consumer-compatible, environmentally-friendly automobiles.

    27. Rights: No

    Every American has the right to affordable and convenient transportation!

    28. Endnotes

    1. National Station Car Association's Information Pages

    2. Ibid.

    3. Ibid.

    4. National Station Car Association: The Station Car Concept

    5. Ibid.

    6. Ibid.

    7. BART Information

    8. PIVCO

    9. National Station Car Association: The Station Car Concept

    10. Ibid.

    11. Ibid.

    12. Kee, Tom. "Electric and Recyclable Cars." Better World Magazine.

    13. Environmental Protection Agency, "Motor Vehicles and the 1990 Clean Air Act."

    14. Ibid., "Milestones in Auto Emissions Control."

    15. National Station Car Association: The Station Car Concept

    16. Gimmler, Franz K."The Station Car Vision: Overview of Station Car Concept," presented at the Seventy-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 14, 1997.

    17. National Station Car Association: The Station Car Concept

    29. Relevant Literature


    Betterworld Magazine


    Calstart's HyperLinks

    Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas (EVAA)

    EVAA Report on Battery Hazards

    Electrifying Times Magazine

    Ford Motor Company: Electric Vehicles

    National Air Quality and Emissions Report 1996

    National Station Car Association

    Personal Independent Vehicle Company of Norway

    EV Photo Album

    United States Advanced Battery Consortium

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