GM may scale back electric car development


DETROIT -- General Motors Corp. said yesterday that it was reviewing its electric-car development program to determine whether to push ahead with commercial production during the next few years.

The GM statement, issued by a spokesman with little elaboration, suggested that the No. 1 automaker, pressed by huge financial losses, could either delay or scale back the project, or seek a partner to help bear the costs.

GM would not say whether the subject had been scheduled for discussion at the company's board meeting, which was held yesterday.

Although each of the Big Three and most foreign automakers are developing battery-powered vehicles, GM appeared closest to commercial production when it designated a factory in Lansing, Mich., last year as its production site. Regulators and suppliers said they were planning on GM producing its electric car no later than 1995.

GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. participate in a consortium that trades information on electric-car battery technology. The Chrysler team includes Westinghouse's Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum,Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the state of Maryland, which together have formed the Chesapeake Consortium to coordinate research, resources and technology to design and develop electric vehicles.

A spokeswoman for Ford said the No. 2 car maker would consider a cooperative venture if GM suggested it. "We're willing to investigate the potential for cooperation," said Beryl Goldsweig of Ford, responding to GM's statement.

The electric car, dubbed Impact, was unveiled by former Chairman Roger Smith in 1990 and heralded as the answer to stricter air pollution standards coming into effect around the nation. It was due to hit the roadways by the mid-1990s.

Borrowing from GM Hughes, its defense electronics unit, the sleek vehicle boasted the latest technology to achieve quick acceleration, topspeeds of up to 75 miles per hour and a range of 125 miles.

But analysts said the experimental program, which cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," has become a luxury that the automaker cannot afford.

GM and other auto companies are trying to comply with clean air rules in California and New York and other Northeastern states that require them to sell so-called zero-emission vehicles by 1998.

Approximately 2 percent of an automaker's fleet by 1998 must be powered by electricity or some other fuel, such as hydrogen, that emits minimal pollutants.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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