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Electric Car Is Only For The Well-To-Do You Must Fill Out An Application Just To Talk About This New Car

Fri., Dec. 6, 1996

General Motors’ electric cars rolled into Saturn dealerships Thursday with an 80-mile range, a zero-emissions promise, a $34,000-plus price tag and a warning they’re not for everyone.

The EV1s, the first electrics from a big U.S. carmaker in 80 years, are available at 24 Southern California and Arizona dealerships on threeyear leases only.

The cost is $520 to $680 a month, depending on credits from smog agencies. A recharging device for garage walls costs another $2,000 plus installation charges that typically run from $1,000 to $3,000.

“Is there more information?” Jack Farley, a recent retiree shopping for a car to tow behind his RV, asked salesman Raymond Herrera at a dealership here.

“I can’t give you the detailed package until you fill out a questionnaire,” Herrera replied, opening the door of a bright red, teardrop-shaped EV1.

“It’s just so we both can make sure that you’re a suitable candidate for the car.”

That candidate profile is an exclusive one: environmentally minded consumers with $120,000 annual incomes and two other gas-powered cars.

Robert Randall, one of 13 Saturn employees trained as EV1 specialists, said GM doesn’t want to muff its experiment by selling to customers who don’t understand the drawbacks of the battery-powered cars and then decide they hate them.

“We do not want anybody in this vehicle unless they are 100 percent sure it fits their needs,” he said.

“Because this vehicle could rewrite history. But if we fail in consumers’ minds, people are going to think, ‘Why should I ever bother dealing with an electric car?’ It could mean the whole industry fails.”

All the other major manufacturers also are planning electric cars to meet requirements in California and the Northeast that 10 percent of vehicles be zero-emissions by 2003.

Just 34 customers put in advance orders and took delivery of EV1s on the first day. They included “Baywatch” star Alexandra Paul and Sylvester Stallone, who was planning to arrive at the Thursday night premiere of his new movie “Daylight” in his new EV1.

Not everyone is an EV1 fan. Mobil Corp. ran newspaper ads Thursday touting clean-burning gasoline, criticizing the taxpayer-funded credits that lower the EV1’s price by thousands of dollars, and pointing out that electricity is generated mostly by burning coal and other smog-producing fossil fuels.

Environmentally oriented groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley cheered. Jason Mark, a transportation analyst for the group, said the EV1 has “immense competitive potential” because it addresses issues like air quality, climate change and foreign energy dependence.

Still, it’s not for everybody. Drive more than the 70 to 90 mile range provided by the lead-acid batteries? You’ll want to wait at least until nickel metal hydride batteries, which will double the range, become available in a couple of years.

A soccer mom with more than one kid? Think about a mini-van. Plan on moving soon? You’ll pay dearly to tear out and reinstall the recharger. Do you rent or live in a condominium with an owners’ association? You’ll need permission for rewiring and installation of the recharger.

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