State, BG&E; join effort to develop electric cars


Chrysler Corp. and the local Westinghouse Electric Corp. division have two new partners -- Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the state of Maryland -- in their previously announced plan to develop a commercially viable electric car.

The four partners said yesterday that they have joined to form the Chesapeake Consortium to coordinate research, resources and technology to design and develop electric vehicles.

The consortium has applied for a $4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would be used in their effort.

If the grant is approved, the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development is prepared to chip in $1 million from its "sunny day fund," which was created by the General Assembly in 1988 for extraordinary economic-development opportunities.

Joel Lee, deputy secretary of DEED, said the $1 million would be used to help the hundreds of smaller companies that serve as subcontractors to the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum make the transition away from military work to commercial contracts.

Its involvement in the development of the electric car is just part of a broad restructuring effort by the local Westinghouse unit to greatly reduce its dependence on a shrinking Pentagon budget.

Westinghouse revealed its connection with Chrysler in early March. At that time, the two companies talked about a combined capital investment of about $10 million to built a new pollution-free vehicle that could zip along the highway at speeds of up to 75 mph with a range of 200 miles between battery charges.

Westinghouse's role would be to supply the electric motor and the power controller. It demonstrated the technology in a Dodge Caravan mini-van that engineers have been driving for months.

For its part, BG&E; will focus on market research to evaluate the commercial acceptance of electric vehicles and study how they would be used by individuals and fleet owners, the company said. The results would be used to define the requirements necessary to help the acceptance of the vehicles.

The utility will also be involved in the development of the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles, including the design for battery charging stations.

BG&E; also has to determine what effect of widespread use of electric cars would have on energy transmission and on the utility's distribution system.

With the approval of the Maryland Public Service Commission, the company said, it would implement an electric rate structure and a billing system designed to stimulate the use of electric vehicles by the public.

"If we are going to bring the electric car to commercial reality, we have to worry about the total solution," said Kelly C. Overman, chairman of the consortium and general manager of Westinghouse's Systems Development and Engineering Division in Linthicum.

Mr. Overman could not say when the first Chrysler-Westinghouse electric vehicles might appear in showrooms, but he did say there might be hundreds of thousands of electric cars on the road by the turn of the century.

The auto industry -- both domestic and foreign -- is putting new emphasis on electric cars, partly as a result of a California law requiring that 2 percent of an automaker's sales in that state be free of emissions by 1998.

That percentage is scheduled to increase to 100 percent by 2003.

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