Here in California we know better. The state Air Resources Board just renewed our Zero-Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program, which will require major automakers to produce roughly 20,000 battery-electric cars beginning in 2003. The ARB rightfully considers the ZEV to be the "gold standard" for low-pollution cars.
Automakers have already sold or leased more than 2,000 electric cars in California, and the drivers of these vehicles love them: today's electric cars are powerful, peppy, and virtually maintenance-free. No oil changes, no smog checks, and no trips to the gas station. They are cheap to refuel, and noise from the electric motor is imperceptible.
There have been significant advances in battery technology over the past ten years, and GM's EV1, equipped with a nickel-metal hydride battery, gets in excess of 100 miles per charge. That may not be enough for every purpose, but it works in many fleet applications, and it's perfect for almost everyone's daily commute.
Coalition for Clean Air
Los Angeles, Calif.
Hqybrid Vigor" is so misleading that it is difficult to believe that Gregg Easterbrook spent any time conducting research for his article. I have driven GM's EV1 for more than two years. My range per charge is 150 miles on the highway and ninety in the city. It is the only car I use. I do not have to pay for tune-ups, oil changes, or smog checks. Electricity costs me less than half the cost of gasoline. I can accelerate from zero to 60 in under eight seconds. I never have to go out of my way to "fill up," because I charge in my driveway at night while I sleep.
I have no intention of ever going back to gasoline. Easterbrook does a disservice to his readers in attempting to propagate the myth that EVs are inadequate and unpopular. In fact, there is a waiting list for them in California.
EVs eliminate oil spills, the export of billions of petro-dollars, and emissions associated with notoriously dirty tankers, refineries, and diesel delivery trucks. When one counts emissions from electricity-generating plants, EVs are still cleaner on a per-mile basis than the cleanest available gasoline automobile.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Gregg Easterbrook replies:
Some things inspire small but intensely loyal followings, and electric cars appear to be one of them. These letters present electric cars as cheap, reliable, practical, fabulous. Why do so few people buy them? Ken Katz and Robert Seldon refer to a waiting list for electric cars; actually, General Motors was able to sell fewer than 100 of its EV1s in California in 1999 before it suspended production. Only about 3,000 electric vehicles have been bought nationwide. Devotees claim that manufacturers conspire not to sell electric vehicles—an argument that seems strained; if the public were clamoring for such cars, automakers would have to be fools not to offer them. (Even Honda, with its clean-green marketing approach, has dropped out of EV sales.) Maybe the popularity of electric cars will change with future technical improvements. For the moment, however, the market for electric cars seems smaller than the market for quill pens.
Your article "The Crescent and the Tricolor" (by Christopher Caldwell, November Atlantic) incorrectly states that "'there's not a single Turk on the German football team.'" Indeed, three German-born Turks, Mustafa Dogan, Mehmet Scholl, and Mahmut Yilmaz, play for the national team. But drawing a relationship between the number of foreign athletes on a national team and ethnic integration is dubious at best. Soccer teams are about finding the best players, not about solving social problems. Meanwhile, economic discrepancies and racism keep the vast majority of French Arabs and German Turks from meaningful integration.