The local Westinghouse Electric Corp. division took another step yesterday toward reducing its dependence on military contracts and establishing itself as a major player in the international electric vehicle market.
The Electronic Systems plant in Linthicum reached an agreement with Yuanwang Bus Group, a leading Chinese bus manufacturer, to develop two electric buses for demonstration in the People's Republic of China early next year.
Westinghouse will supply two of its 230-horsepower electric-drive trains that the bus company will install in chassis produced at its Shengli Bus Factory in Beijing.
Kelly C. Overman, the Westinghouse executive who oversees the company's electric vehicle program, said the two units don't represent a sale but are Westinghouse's contribution to the team to develop a new battery-powered transit bus.
Public transportation is used heavily in China, and the success of the Westinghouse demonstration could lead to annual production in China of several thousand electric buses.
Westinghouse is eyeing a slice of that business.
"I sure hope we get that business, or a lot of it at least," said Mr. Overman.
He predicted that Westinghouse's involvement in electric vehicles would eventually lead to one of the company's biggest programs at its northern Anne Arundel County complex, with sales in excess of $1 billion.
Westinghouse has eliminated about 8,400 jobs in Maryland since 1988, primarily due to the decline in defense spending.
The division has been moving into new commercial markets, including electric buses, in recent years to lessen its dependence on military contracts.
While the company has electric vehicles, including cars, in various stages of testing, Mr. Overman said, this market is not expected to generate big sales volume until 1998 and beyond.
Westinghouse entered the electric vehicle industry in 1991 when it joined Chrysler Corp. in the development of an electric vehicle that the two companies hope will be commercially viable by the late 1990s.
The two companies are expected to invest about $10 million in developing a vehicle that can travel 75 mph and cover 200 miles between recharges.
Chrysler has said it will offer electric minivans, powered by Westinghouse motors, for sale in California in 1998.
Buses seem better suited
At this stage of battery development, Mr. Overman said, buses seem better suited for electric power than cars.
Mr. Overman explained that they are large enough to carry the batteries needed for useful range.
He said most buses have defined routes that are well within the 60- to 80-mile limit offered by today's lead acid batteries.
Westinghouse has teamed with Blue Bird Corp. of Macon, Ga., the world's largest manufacturer of school buses, to produce four pure electric transit buses and a hybrid that runs off electricity supplied by a small diesel generator. The first is currently being tested by the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, transit system.
The Antelope Valley School Transportation Agency, in Southern California, has been testing another Westinghouse-powered Blue Bird school bus for more than a year.
Annapolis to Atlanta
A 56-passenger shuttle bus developed for use on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology recently made the 775-mile trip from Annapolis to Atlanta. It pulled a trailer housing a diesel-powered generator to maintain the charge in the batteries.
Mr. Overman said Blue Bird has ordered more than 200 Westinghouse electric motors for use in buses scheduled for production.