PARK RIDGE, Ill. Still reeling after California's refusal to back down from its electric-car mandate, General Motors Corp. last week filed suit in an attempt to strike down the regulation.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, calls for a review of the mandate that requires automakers to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles in the state by 2003. "We're hoping a court will say that it's unconstitutional and illegal," said a spokesman for GM.
GM filed the suit after petitioning the California Air Resources Board (Carb) for a review in late January. Board members, however, refused to review the decision and a spokesman for the agency said the lawsuit will not change its position. "This matter will unfortunately have to be settled in court," said a Carb spokesman. "The air board is not going to back off."
The mandate is expected to have a profound effect on automotive-design engineers because it could siphon off funding for other technical programs, particularly in the area of fuel cells, hybrid vehicles and possibly even automotive multimedia.
In its lawsuit, GM argues that California's zero-emission vehicle mandate will do little to clean the air, will end up costing money for consumers and will put unsafe vehicles on the road. "They are mandating a technology whose time has come and gone," the GM spokesman said. "We are not ashamed or embarrassed to stand up to a regulation that is absurd."
California regulators, however, have repeatedly said that a zero-emissions policy is a necessity in that state. Electric vehicles, which are the linchpin of the mandate, are needed because more than half of the state's smog-forming pollutants come from motor vehicles, the agency has said. Board members at Carb hope that by pushing the mandate, General Motors and other major automakers will commit more engineering resources to the development of electric cars.
"I'm very disappointed that General Motors has chosen to put its future in the hands of its lawyers, rather than in the hands of its outstanding engineers," said Alan Lloyd, Carb chairman.
At least one major automaker plans to comply with the mandate and a second is said to be leaning in that direction. Ford Motor Co. has announced that it will produce and sell two types of electric cars: The Think City, a 9.8-foot-long two-seater with a top speed of 56 mph; and the Think Neighbor, a golf cart with a top speed of 25 mph. Similarly, DaimlerChrysler is expected to meet the mandate by producing golf-cart-like vehicles.
Carb, however, has said that it will give diminishing credit for such vehicles as time goes on, and ultimately expects the automakers to switch over to production of full-size electric cars. No major automaker has yet announced a plan to produce such vehicles, however.
GM executives contend that it's unrealistic to expect automakers to build and sell full-size, cost-competitive, battery-powered cars. The company claims that batteries haven't reached the energy-density levels needed to make electric vehicles competitive. GM engineers used lead-acid and nickel-metal-hydride battery packs in the EV1 electric car, but leased only a few hundred.
GM executives said they want to help California deal with its pollution problems, but hope to do so by developing fuel cells or hybrid vehicles.