Lesson 3, Topic 3
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1990s Electric Vehicles

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Electric vehicles gained a renewed interest in the 1990s. California, seeking ways to meet air quality standards, enacted rules to transition to zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs).


ZEV CARB Requirements

In 1990 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a future Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) requirement to increase air quality standards. Under this regulation, CARB required automotive manufacturers to offer ZEVs. CARB initially required that 2% of vehicles sold in California from large manufacturers in 1998 had to be ZEVs. Manufacturers that sold more cars in California had to make more ZEVs. Since 1990, the regulation has been modified to account for technological advancement. CARB reviews this regulation every other year. This regulation accelerated automotive manufacturers in designing and building ZEVs and transitional ZEVs. California uses a credit system to calculate compliance. The credits are based on the vehicles electric range. Some ZEVs use hydrogen fuel cells. Gas-electric hybrids also receive a credit amount. If a vehicle has a longer electric range, the manufacturer receives more credits toward compliance. In the 1990s, manufacturers began to produce “Compliance Cars” to help meet the ZEV requirement. Other states can join California and adopt the same standards or follow the federal guidelines. Nine states follow California’s ZEV regulations: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. Go to arb.ca.gov to learn more about the ZEV program.

Compliance Cars

Beginning in the 1990s, manufacturers began to produce a limited number of compliance cars to meet the ZEV regulation. These were not intended to be mass marketed across all 50 states. They were sold mainly in California and other states adopting the same standards.

ManufacturerModelTypeModel YearsElectric RangeBattery
General MotorsEV1Subcompact Car1997-199978 to 142 milesEarly Models 16.5-18.7 kWh Lead-acid, Later Models 26.4 kWh NiMH
General MotorsS-10EVCompact Pickup1997-199833 to 72 milesEarly Models 16.2 kWh Lead-acid, Later Models 39 kWh NiMH
FordRanger EVCompact Pickup1998-200265 to 82 milesEarly Models 22 kWh Lead-acid, Later Models 26 kWh NiMH

General Motors EV1

After 1912, most automotive manufacturers began focusing on low-cost internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. It took until the 1990s for a major automaker to design and build another one that wasn’t merely a concept car. Instead of converting an ICE vehicle into an electric vehicle, GM built the EV1 as an electric vehicle from the beginning. Customers could not purchase the EV1, they could only lease it. Even though feedback from customers was mostly positive, GM did not allow customers to purchase the vehicles at the end of the lease. Most of the 1,117 vehicles that were produced were crushed. The outrage by consumers was documented in the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”. The few EV1s that avoided the car crusher had their powertrains deactivated and were donated to educational institutions and museums. The National Museum of American History has the only known operational EV1.


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