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  • Revision:2nd Edition, October 17, 2003
  • Published Date:October 17, 2003
  • Status:Active, Most Current
  • Document Language:English
  • Published By:SAE International (SAE)
  • Page Count:544
  • ANSI Approved:No
  • DoD Adopted:No


    Robert Riley's original 1994 edition of Alternative Cars in the21st Century: A New Personal Transportation Paradigm arrived at acritical time and served a vital need. A new priority on electriccars was then stimulating public interest, regulatory attention,and many technological developments. Information to the public wascharacterized by an overload of conjecture, complexity, andalternatives. Riley brought some clarity to the field. He putthings in perspective, backed up by quantitative exploration. Nowit is nine years later. Many more forces and technologies haveentered the ring. The stakes are higher. This new, considerablyrevised edition appears at an even more critical time. There arenow many more complexities, alternatives, and overload frominformation and misinformation. Clarifying realities and providingperspective become more vital. Riley handles the task well.

    Throughout the 20th century, cars have been infiltrating intothe very soul of the United States. In a symbiotic relationship,cars and highways created us as we created them. Cars came todefine us: where we live relative to where we work, ourrecreations, our mating patterns, and our self-esteem. A galacticobserver, upon first looking down on the United States, mightassume cars to be the dominant lifeform: they travel widely, avoidjostling each other, but congregate closely and rest regularly ingiant meeting lots. Little twolegged subunits might be theirslaves. Are the galactic observer's insights mistaken? In any case,use of cars grew huge because of the many benefits they providedus. When automotive technology changed, it was mostly by smallsteps, with an occasional kick from regulations about exhaustemissions, fuel economy (corporate average fuel economy [CAFE]requirements), and safety. The 1990s initiated a decade of fasterchange. Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickups, insulated fromCAFE rules, became increasingly popular with customers whoseinterest in being in the heavier vehicle when collisions occurredoutweighed concerns about poor fuel efficiency (or the fate of theoccupants of the lighter vehicle). Manufacturers who hadcontinually lost money trying to market small, fuel-efficient carsnow found profits in the heavier, low-mpg vehicles. In a broadsense, the people who design cars are the customers (aided ofcourse by auto company engineers), and they have designed well,although more for individual than societal benefit.

    An underlying theme of alternative cars is the combination ofcontinuing to meet our needs for safe and convenient personalmobility while decreasing local and global pollution and ourdependence on nonrenewable energy sources. An obvious and practicalstrategy is adopting vehicles that do their job with much lessenergy. This cuts consumption (and preserves reserves) ofconventional fuels and opens opportunities for alternative energies(mostly renewable, with low pollutant emissions) that may initiallybe more expensive and less convenient. Riley's entrance into themobility field came through small, very efficient vehicles—a betterstarting point for his ideas than if he had been embedded in themidst of the standard car field. I am perhaps biased in his favorbecause of having personally entered the serious mobility fieldfrom the standpoint of very efficient specialty vehicles that hadto rely on the puny power of human muscles or photovoltaiccells.

    The alternative car field has evolved from a century featuringmany car developments, both technological and societal. Asignificant modern change element emerged on January 3, 1990. Thebattery-powered GM Impact was first presented to the public at apress conference with Roger Smith, GM's chairman, presiding. I willnever forget one of his prophetic remarks. He noted that autocompanies had some hesitancy about introducing a new technologybecause of their experience that regulation of the technologyusually followed quickly. On Earth Day 1990, he announced that GMwould actually commit to producing the car commercially. Withinseveral months the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate wasestablished by the California Air Resources Board. This requiredthat in a few years every manufacturer sell some ZEVs (presumablybattery-powered) along with their regular products. In a sense itwas a flawed concept, requiring manufacturers to develop,manufacture, sell, and warrant the revolutionary vehicles, but notrequiring anyone to buy them.

    Nevertheless, as the next generation looks back at whatinitiated healthy fundamental change in mobility technologies andapplications for the United States and even the rest of the world,the importance of the ZEV mandate as a catalyst, a wake-up call,will be appreciated. The mandate's details evolved, adapting to acombination of changing technological reality and the vestedinterest of political and economic entities. For GM, the pioneeringtask of turning the Impact demonstrator into the commercial EV-1was formidable. The total vehicle systems design, with highpriority on vehicle efficiency dictated by the low energycapability of batteries, represented dramatic change. For the firsttime, virtually every part needed to be made of unconventionalmaterial, fashioned by new production techniques. It was a daringstep into the future by GM. The EV-1's commercial viability isunimportant compared to the value of its initiation of significantdedication to change throughout the industry.

    Globally the major car companies began serious exploration ofalternative power technologies. Small entrepreneurial groups sensedthe emergence of what looked like big new opportunities. Governmentfunding, governmentindustry partnerships, and government laboratorysupport appeared. This period proved to be an education for all, asthe small entrepreneurs slowly began to appreciate the magnitude ofresources required for meeting reliability standards and productioneconomies of the auto industry, while the large entities beganexploring the uncomfortable introduction of revolutionarytechnologies into an industry (and to customers) more accustomed toadvancing by small steps. The inexorable rise of U.S. dependence onforeign oil sources (including from countries with politicalagendas far different from ours), and the contribution of fossilfuel emissions to global climate change, emerged as seriouschallenges to the status quo. A new ballgame had arrived, with therules undefined, and with new players.