Leon Worden

Saturn EV1: New high-tech toy debuts tomorrow

Leon Worden · December 4, 1996

Electronics and toy stores aren't the only places that are scrambling to stock their shelves with the latest high-tech gadgets in time for your holiday shopping spree. The hottest new item this year isn't WebTV, and you aren't going to find it at Kay-Bee. It won't even fit under your tree.

No, the most revolutionary product of the 1996 holiday season comes straight from outer space. From Saturn, to be exact. It's due to arrive tomorrow on showroom floors throughout the American Southwest.

"It" is the EV1, the first mass-produced electric car from a Big Three auto maker. General Motors won the race to market the automobile of the future, and the company's Saturn division will introduce it tomorrow at 26 selected dealerships in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson. The closest outlet is Galpin Motors in San Fernando, although Galpin's Valencia Saturn dealership will carry the EV1 when it opens early next year. Groundbreaking for the Valencia store is this Friday.

EV1Everything about the new car is space-age, even the advertising blitz. A 90-second commercial produced by Industrial Light and Magic of "Star Wars" fame will beam into your television set tomorrow night.

Once upon a time, electric vehicles were the folly of university students who knew their projects would never bear fruit because the oil industry lobbyists held Washington and Sacramento in a stranglehold. Somehow all of that changed in recent years, to the point where the California Legislature has mandated that 2 percent of all cars sold in 1998, increasing to 10 percent in 2003, must be powered by alternative energy sources.

Forced to adapt to an ever-more environmentally sensitive political climate, GM broke new ground with the EV1. You just know Ford and Chrysler can't be far behind.

With a price tag of $33,995, the EV1 is available only on a 3-year, 30,000-mile lease, not for sale. Customers need to have a 220-volt, 6.6-kilowatt home charger installed at an additional cost, a Saturn spokesman said.

Manufactured in Lansing, Michigan, the standard two-seater model is equipped with dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, a CD player and cruise control. "Most important, it's a car designed for people to commute, to shop, to run around town," GM chairman John F. Smith Jr. said in a prepared statement. "It's a car for people who never want to go to the gas station again."

While it won't make that long trip to Vegas, the car is expected to meet the needs of the average American motorist. The EV1 will run for 70 miles in the city and 90 on the highway between chargings -- over three times the distance most people drive in a day. Juice it up for three hours, and the car is ready to go again.

The new Saturn accelerates from 0 to 60 in under 9 seconds, thanks in part to a drag coefficient of 0.19, which the company says is 30 percent less than any other production car. It reaches top speeds of an "electronically regulated" 80 mph, and there may be room for improvement there: the prototype set a land speed record for electric cars at 183 mph.

At 150 pounds, the 137 horsepower, 3-phase AC induction motor is only about one-third the weight of the average gasoline drivetrain. The spaceframe is the world's lightest for a vehicle of its size, using 290 pounds of aluminum instead of 600 pounds of conventional steel. The plastic body panels come in red, green or silver-blue.

General Motors plans to follow the EV1 with more futuristic vehicles in 1997. An electrically powered Chevy S-10 pickup truck using EV1 technologies will be manufactured in Shreveport, Louisiana for use as a commercial fleet vehicle. "These pickups will be especially appropriate for predetermined routes where the truck comes back to the garage every night," Smith said.

For one season at least, the "different kind of company" wins the truth-in-advertising award for introducing a totally different kind of car.

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From new to old again: Watch for the next Old Town Newhall Gazette inside your subscriber or newsstand copy of The Signal on Saturday!

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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