Prospects for Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
UCTC No. 261
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Prospects for Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
Department Civil and Environmental Engineering
Universityof California at Davis
Transportation Research Record
Vol. 1444, pp. 16-22 (1994)
TheUniversity of California Transportation Center
University of California at Berkeley
Prospects Neighborhood Electric
electric vehicles (NEVs) a promisingstrategy for vehicles are not necessary. Almost40 percent of households own
easing the growingtension betweendemands greater automotive two vehicles, and an additional 20 percent own three or more
travel and calls for improved environmentalquality. Byreducingper-
formance driving range expectations, NEVs
and overcome battery
the vehicles (for a total of 54 million households with two or more
problem larger electric vehicles while still serving the mobility
of vehicles) (2). Abouthalf of all trips are Iess than 5 mi and
of travelers. Theintroduction of NEVs likely to be
is madeby a single person traveling at relatively low speed (3).
slowedby a webof road and vehicle rules designedwith the standard The problemis a uniformity of expectations by consumers,gov-
vehicle of the past in mindand by uniformvehicle size expectations ernment regulators, and highwaysupplierso All vehicles are ex-
on the part of consumers,government regulators, and highway sup- pected to satisfy all purposes, all roads are built to serve all ve-
pliers. Theenergyand environmental benefits are potentially so large, hicles, and all rules are designedfor the standard vehicle of the
however, and the opportunity to create more human-scalecommuni-
ties so promisingthat it wouldbe irresponsible not to pursue NEVs past. The result is an inertia that discourages innovation and
in a moredeliberate fashion. change by vehicle users and suppliers.
The time is ripe for change. Continuedattachment to large cars
is a dam holding back a sea of policy demands. This continued
As cars proliferated during the twentieth century people cameto
attachment frustrates efforts to reduce energy consumption(via
rely on them more, creating a spiraling dependency. Why to go more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economystandards),
the small local grocery and hardware stores whengiant depart- adopt battery-powered zero-emission vehicles, and create more
ment and warehousestores are only another 20 rain awayby car?
As dependenceon cars increased, cars began to dominate streets°
Small cars are one outlet for relieving these pressures. They
Streets were made wider and sidewalks narrower or nonexistent.
provide the opportunity not only to greatly reduce energy and
Nowmost people in suburban neighborhoods often do not con-
environmental impacts but also to catalyze the creation of more
sider walking, bicycling, or even riding public transit. Automo-
human-scale neighborhoods. Neighborhoodcars are a compelling
bility has spiraled upward,creating, in an iterative fashion, an
concept that deserves to be tested and nurtured° The potential
increasingly car-centric k’~ffastructure and social behavior.
drawbacks--principally safety of occupants--are few and can be
Someexcesses of automobile dependence can be avoided, but
mitigated, whereas the potential social, economic, and environ-
at least for the United States and other" affluent countries, private
mental benefits are positive. Realizing those benefits requires
transportation is here to stay into the foreseeable future (l). The
overcomingthe hegemony large vehicles, whichis not an easy
growingtension betweendemandfor greater automobility and de-
mand better environmentalquality can be eased, however, with
The key to introducing small cars is dispensing with the one-
more environmentally benign vehicles.
size-fits-all mentality that pervadesthe transportation system(4).
Onestrategy is to use very small electric vehicles (EVs), for
Changesmust be madein rigid safety regulations that discourage
now referred to as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). Not
innovation, automaker hostility to small cars, standardized infra-
only will they reduce environmental degradation but they also
structure designs that discriminate against small vehicles, and traf-
could be a catalyst in creating more environmentally benign,
fic control rules that serve only large vehicles.
The one-size-fits-all philosophyof the automobile industry is,
even apart from this new class of neighborhood and commuter
THE CHALLENGE cars, becoming increasingly anachronistic. The principal force for
change is increasing affluence and car ownership. With the grow-
Motor vehicles of today are capable of carrying four or more ing abundance of vehicles, no longer must each vehicle serve
people, accelerating quickly to 100 km/hr (62 mph)and cruising every purpose. Vehicles can be designed to respond to more spe-
comfortablyat 120 kin/hr. These attributes are desirable for some cialized desires of consumers--as is already happening. Recent
trips. As long as all vehicles are expectedto serve all trips large of
examples this shift towardmorespecialized vehicles, albeit in
powerfulvehicles wilt be preferred. But this all-around capability a more modest fashion than proposed here, are small and large
comes a cost not only in terms of the direct costs of vehicles, vans, two-seat sports cars, minivans,and sport utility (luxury four-
fuels, and road space but also external environmental costs and wheel-drive)vehicles°
the indirect costs of maintaininga car-centric transportation sys- A newgroup of small vehicles tha~ follow in this tradition can
tem. Moreoverfor most trips and households, large, full-powered be envisioned: small specialized vehicles, smaller than a subcom-
pact car and pickup truck, including narrow commutercars that
Institute of Transportation
of use less road and parking space and consumeless energy; small
CaliL 95616. shared "station" cars that are used for accessing transit stops and
:;rations; small trucks used on large campuses,in office parks, on stability, cornering, and maneuverability;carlike suspension pro-
military bases, and in dense downtowns;and neighborhood cars vides better responsiveness; the vehicles are outfitted with wind-
used strictly for local travel. These niche applications could even- shield wipers, horn, side-view mirrors, and three-point seat belts
mally constitute a large numberof vehicles. anchored to the frame; and the vehicle has a higher and more
Thefocus, of this paper is NEVs. Althoughthis is only one of visible profile, a full array of gauges, and lockable storage areas.
I~.he marketniches suggested and might take longer to evolve than It has a range of 40 kin, four wheels, and two seats. It is intended
someof the others, the long-term market potential and possible to be used on low-speed residential streets, separate lanes, or roads
social benefits of NEVs dwarf those of other mini-EV market dedicated to low-speed vehicles, perhaps including bicycles. It
~rfches. Moreover most of the barriers facing the other small elec- was designed by a smaUcompanyin Michigan that is currently
la-ic vehicles are common NEVs. to
negotiating with larger companies assist in marketingand man-
ufacturing. Targeted at mobility-impaired individuals, retirement
communities, resorts, and new towns designed to accommodate
DEFINING NEVs such vehicles, it is designedto sell for about $5,000.
Onestep up is the City-El madein Denmark. has a top speed
NEVs defined to include those vehicles that are not capable
are of 55 km/hr, a range of about 50 kin, three wheels, and one scat
of traveling on freeways. They wouldtend to be small and light, ptus storage space. Several thousand were sold in the 1980s and
but their distinguishing feature is a top speed of about 70 km/hr early 1990s in Europe. The selling price, including batteries, in
or less. Theyare unique in requiring specialized road infrastruc- 1993 was about $7,000. The Sacramento Municipal Utility Dis-
ture and in contributing to local land use goals. Theother small trict imported over 100 of these vehicles in 1993 and 1994; they
,electric vehicles identified above, such as narrow or small com- are leased and lent to individuals in the area.
muter ca~ ~dth limited range and that occupylimited space, might The Kewet, another small EVproduced in Denmark,was first
have feature’s in common with NEVs are less likely to influ-
but sold in the United States in 1993. It has a top speed of 65 km/hr,
ence land use changes. four wheels, a range of 50 km, two seats, and four wheels and
OneNEV variation mentionedabove is the shared-use "station costs $12,800 (in 1994). The Kewetand City-El are essentially
car." These vehicles are intended primarily for driving to and hand-built by using primitive technology. If the vehicles were
from transit stations. Theyare inspired by a desire of transit op- mass-produced in a modern factory the cost would be reduced
erators in large cities for riders to use less parldngspaceat stations dramatically.
and stimulate patronage, and secondarily to reduce the travel costs Neighborhood vehicles need not be electric. They could burn
of potential patrons. Costs are reduced by using smaller and there- gasoline or other fossil fuel in an internal combustionengine,
fore inherently cheaper vehicles and shared ownership.By sharing perhaps hybridized with batteries, and be competitive or even
ownership a single vehicle might be used by several commuters superior-----on a private cost basis--to pure battery-powered neigh-
each day. The vehicle might be dropped off at a station by a borhood vehicles. But the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV)mandate
person arriving from a residence, picked up by an arriving transit (if fully implemented)overturns such a finding. Battery power
rider traveling in the countercommute direction, returned by that will likely dominatebecause~as indicated belo~; automakersneed
sameperson to the station later, and perhaps used by still another to sell ZEVs, and NEVs may prove to be the easiest and least
transit user arriving at that station in the evening and needing a costly wayto do so. Moreover as NEV technology is improved,
ride home.The station cars could also be used during the day for neighborhood electric cars will likely be seen as superior to neigh-
personal errands or as a fleet vehicle for business trips. This con- borhood gasoline-powered cars in terms of convenience and re-
cept of station cars has been experimented with in Europe and liability, if not cost.
Japan with bicycles and small cars, with lhnited success. A station
car association wasformedin the United States in 1993by several
pairs of transit operators andelectric utilities, principally those in CASE FOR NEVs
the San Francisco and Chicagoareas.
A genera]t defining characteristic of N’EVs their specialization As indicated above the time is ripe for NEVs. Several trends and
for local travel They will have low top speeds and low power forces are converging to enhance the environmental, economic,
needs. MostNEVs willbe very small, accommodatingor two
and social attractiveness of NEVs. potential benefits are large.
people plusstorage but
space, somemaybelarger accommo- to
datefamilies sevcral NEVs
children. range fromtop-cod
NEVs that intended travel arterial
arc for on streets speeds
at of EnvironmentalBenefits
upto 70 kn~ctr bottom-end with speeds about top of 30
Bottom-end would havc separate rights-of-way, mix- are
The environmental and energy benefits of NEVs the most ob-
ingwith other motor vehicles inspecialized
circumstances, vious. NEVs far more attractive environmentally than either
such streets stringent and size
spccd vehicle restrictions.gasoline-powered even general-purpose electric cars. They con-
Therange NEVsnccdnotexceed km or so,because they sumeonly a fraction of the energy that conventional-size EVsand
arcdriven onshort and
trips canbereadily recharged cach gasoline-poweredvehicles do and therefore emit only a fraction
night. of the quantity of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Evenif the
Evenbottom-end would significant be upgrades from were
powerplants that supply electricity to NEVs to rely primarily
golf carts. for
Consider, instance, a prototype madc
vehicle by on coal, NEVs wouldstill contribute little pollution or greenhouse
Trans Although resembles a goLf in
cart topspeed car-and gases.
rying capacity, it has superior performance,safety, and comfort. The environmental and energy benefits are even more imprcs~
Its lower center of gravity and frontwheel drive provide improved sive, however, because NEVs replace the most polluting and in-
i8 TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH RECORD 1444
efficient trips of gasoline-powered vehicles: short, slow urban The use of NEVs,because of their smaller size, would provide
trips. Duringshort trips and the first few minutesof longer trips, another benefit: an opportunity to shrink lane widths and parking
gasoline-powered vehicles emit t0 times or more pollutants per space and expandthe capacity of existing road space.
kilometer than they do after the catalysts are warmedup. EVs The greatest contribution of NEVs,however,mayultimately be
have no catalyst and no cold-hot distinction. Emissionsfrom the as a stand-in for nonmotorized travel. Over time automobileshave
last mile are as low as those fromthe first. cometo dominate the thinking and actions of local governments.
For instance comparea Kewet(750 kg including batteries) with Governmentshave focused attention on creating a safe and ac-
a subcompactgasoline-powered car. Assume that trips average 4 commodating environment for cars--building abundant roads and
kin, speeds vary between0 and 55 km/hr, about 60 percent of the parking spaces and imposingtraffic controls to ensure speedy, safe
trips are from a cold start, and electricity for the NEV comesfrom travel. Manyneighborhoods do not even have sidewalks. Mathe-
an average mix of U.S. power plants (which will use 52 percent matical travel demandmodels, used to prioritize newtranspor-
coal in 2000). In this case, relative to a subcompactgasoline- tation investments, usually ignore bicycles and pedestrians.
powered car, the NEVwould reduce carbon monoxideemissions Pedestrians and bicyclists are usually afterthoughts. The most
by 99 percent, hydrocarbon emissions by 99, and nitrogen oxide long-lasting effect of NEVs paradoxically might be to reverse the
emissions by 92 percent (M. W. Wang,personal communication, trend toward less nonmotorized travel.
based on work by Q. Wang al. 5). The already low emissions The appearance of NEVs,even in small numbers, forces a re-
of EVs are reduced further by NEVs. thinking of rules and investments preoccupied with the automo-
NEVs also reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions bile. More important the use of NEVs,even in limited circum-
sharply. NEVs would use less than half the energy of a typical stances, provokesplanners, politicians, zoning boards, and others
subcompact EV(on the basis of actual data from the Kewet as whowrite building and street codes to rethink their car-centric
well as from s/mulation models) (M. W. Wang, personal com- rules and plans. NEVs wouldprovide a justification for rewriting
munication, based on work by Q. Wanget aI. 5)° This energy building and traffic rules and diverting road and land development
reduction is a more than 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide investments towardthe needs of pedestrians and bicyclists. Grad-
emissions relative to those of a subcompact gasoline-poweredcar, ually bikeways and pedestrian paths might becomemore wide-
even with today’s coal-dom/nated mix of power plants (using the spread and more intensively used. Wa"[king and bicycles are not
same assumptions as for the emissions estimate). The reductions for everyone, but even a small shift from motorized vehicles
would be even more dramatic in practice because EVs are rela- would have positive effects on congestion, pollution, and energy
tively more energy efficient than gasoline-powered cars at the use.
slow speeds typical of NEV driving (but relatively less efficient Although the details of integrating NEVs into each neighbor-
than gasoline-poweredcars at high speeds). hood would need to be workedout (as indicated later), the exis-
NEVs environmentally superior comparednot only with all tence of NEVs provides an opportunity for more intimate and
other personal vehicles but also with mass transit. The energy integrated neighborhoods,enhancedmobility, and the creation of
consumption emissions of a transit bus or even fixed-raiI elec-
and a more hospitable environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.
tric transit system would be considerably higher per passenger NEVs could be the key to easing tension between those who ap-
kilometer than those of a single-occupant NEV. plaud the mobility benefits of the automobileand those whoblame
In summarybecause NEVs use .so little energy and operate it for destroying the social fabric of modem communities(6).
almost exclusively under driving conditions in whichelectric pro-
pulsion is most attractive, the already large benefits of EVsbe-
come overwhelmingly positive with a NEV. ZEV Mandate
Instrumental ha aiding the introduction of neighborhood cars will
be the ZEV mandate. As major automakers confront the high cost
Land Use and Mobility Benefits: NEVsas Catalyst of meeting the ZEV mandatewith full-size gasoline-like electric
cars, they wilt undoubtedlybecome increasingly receptive to new
NEVs also address a variety of social ills associated with in- approaches. Recognizingthe relatively poor energy storage char-
creased automobility: lack of mobility by poor, elderly, and phys- acterislics of batteries, they will undoubtedlyconclude, for the
ically disabled persons; consumption large quantities of land;
of reasons listed, that smaller EVsare economically and environ-
and marginalJzation of the most environmentally benign forms of mentally superior and technically moresensible than larger EVs.
travel: walkingand bicycling. are
NEVs arguably the most compelling application of battery-
Increased mobility for those precluded from driving because of do
poweredelectric propulsion. NEVs not suffer from the short-
physical disabilities is especially compelling places wheretran-
in comings of batteries like larger EVs do simply because they re-
sit service is sparse, as is the case in most of the United States. quire relatively little energy or power.Their low energy needs are
The ease of driving a NEV makesit accessible to a broader range due to their low weight, low top speed, short driving range, and
of individuals, including the expanding elderly population (the do
because NEVs not travel far on any one trip, less demanding
population of individuals over the age of 50 in the United States interior heating and cooling demands.Innovative energy-efficient
is expected to almost double between 1990 and 2020, from 63.5 techniques such as compressedair- and solar-powered air circu-
million to 112 million). Oneoption for makingalready easy-to- lation can readily be used. In addition the low weight of the bat-
drive NEVs more accessible to mobility-impaired individuals is tery pack allows for a lighter structural design and therefore still
to substitute the driver’s seat with a place for a wheelchair.Other greater weight and energy reductions. Although based on simple
options are to adapt the already simple driving controls to hand designs and relatively unsophisticated engineering, the City-El de-
controls and to partially or fully automatethe controls. scribed earlier carries only 110 kg of conventional lead-acid bat-
reties, cost~.ng $250, the Kewetcarries 270 kg of batteries, and on
lanes can be set aside for NEVs wide roads, and special cross-
the Trans 2 carries only 130 kg of batteries. In contrast a typical with
ings of major arterials can be created. In communities transit
subcompact EVwould need more than 450 kg of lead-acid bat- stations and park-and-ride lots for transit and carpools, special
teries (the very energy-efficient Impact prototype EVof General access and parking can be created for NEVs. Preferential parking
Motors carries 410 kg of batteries). Under mass-producedcondi- can be created in shopping areas and at workplaces. Many inex-
tions NEV:sshould be muchcheaper to own attd operate than a pensive changes in infrastructure can be made to accommodate
full-size gasoline-powered electric car. and even reward NEV use.
As major automakers begin to recognize the relative case of
building a cost-competitive NEV they will likely reconsider their
historic disinterest in small EVs. The key question will be: Will
there be a market for what is easiest and cheapest to build? SAFETY, LIABILITY, AND TRAFFIC CONTROL
Safety maybe the most controversial aspect of small cars. Safety
INFRASTRUCTURE CHANGES regulators in the United States are diligent, determined,and ef-
fective. Their mission is to increase the survivability of vehicle
Inflexible safety standards and standardized roadwaydesigns dis- occupants in aa accident. Safety debates are guided by this reg-
courage efforts to introduce a neighborhood All roads are built ulatory mission. But this regulatory approachis narrow; it misses
to serve all vehicles, and all rules are designed for the standard the larger benefits that result from a safer system. Vehiclesafety
vehicle of the past. Important changes are needed in government could be enhanced, for instance, by limiting the mixing of large
policy and practice. and small vehicles, perhaps by banning trucks from roads desig-
A new paradigm of road design that does not revolve around and
nated for NEVs by Limiting the speed limit on NEV--designated
conventior.tal cars is needed. Onemight argue that the road system roads by using speed bumpsand other "calming" devices. More-
should be designed to serve pedestrians, bicycles, NEVs, conven- over local residents along speed-controlled and vehicle-restricted
tional cars, and service trucks, in that order. Sucha road sys- streets benefit by being liberated to bicycle and walk in relative
tem might look very different from that in most suburban safety. Unfortunatelysafety data do not exist for such a transpor-
communities. tation system to determine howlarge and important these safety
Today’s municipal engineers and planners rely on design stan- benefits mightbe.
dards and priorities that discourage and even preclude smaller ve- The narrowed safety debate will therefore probably focus on
hicles and ignore pedestrians and bicyclists. They build wide the undeniablephysical reality that an occupantof a small car is
neighborhoodstreets that are empty most of the time and consume clearly morevulnerable to injury than an occupantof a larger car,
large amountsof space. Professional guidelines call for a mini- all else being equal. But even at this level it is not evident that
mum street width of 6.7 m (22 ft), even though cars are less than occupants of very small cars will be at greater risk, because all
2 mwide. This design standard effectively disperses the neigh- else need not be equal. Thesmall car could be madesafer through
borhoods, makingear travel even more necessary. If developers better design and use of safety devices inside the cabin. Racecar
prefer to build narrower roads, they must go through an arduous drivers, for instance, survive crashes at 240 km~rby using ul-
appeals process. This car-centric mentality discourages innovative trastiff shells withinternal restraints.
designs, including the use of narrow roads suited to NEVs. has
The U.S. government, through NHTSA, created the most
SomeNEVs will be used on roads and in communities designed detailed and prescriptive vehicle safety standards in the world.
for such vehicles. Others will be used in established communities. Currently there are no safety regulations or laws specific to EVs
Superimp~singNEVs an established road system is especially of any size or type--although several proposed rules regarding
challenging, but not impossible. The city of Davis, CalLfomia, recharging, crash avoidance, and crashworthiness were issued in
provides a model of howsuch changes are possible. Throughthe the early 1990s--andthere are none specifically targeted at small
late 1960s the city of Davis and the University of California cam- vehicles. Theycurrently promulgatestandards only for light-duty
pus adjacent to the city had a typical gridlike automobile-based passenger cars and trucks, motorcycles, and golf carts. (These
road system. A few individuals started a campaign to promote standards are not necessarily consistent or above reproach; safety
bicycles. ’ITaroughtrial and error roads and traffic controls were standards for minivans, for instance, although they are used dis-
gradually adapted to bicycle use. Someroads were closed to mo- proportionately for families and children, are less stringent than
torized vehicles, others required special permits for motorizedve- those for cars°)
hicles, special bicycle lanes werecreated on still others, and even- The golf can category is for vehicles weighing less than 590
tually enti’,rely newbicycle paths werebuilt. Thereis nowan entire kg, designedto operate at not greater than 25 km/hr, and designed
networkof connectedbicycle paths and lanes, with traffic circles to carry golf equipmentand not more than two people. NEVs will
and other traffic control devices designedspecifically for bicycles. not qualify for this lenient category, and thus they must meet the
Police traveling on bicycles enforce traffic rules, including stop same standards as a full-size vehicle, even though they do not
signs, by issuing tickets. travel on freeways or at high speeds.
The same process could be followed with NEVs. Although There are exceptions. In 1967a broad exemptionfrom the stan-
guideline:g can and should be developedto assist local planners dards was granted for four-wheel vehicles weighingless than 450
and officials, each community will need to grapple with the local kg on the groundsthat it was impossiblefor such vehicles to meet
circumstances(7) (see paper by Stein, this Record). Just as the general standards; that exemptionwas subsequently removed
bicycles ’in Davis, someroads can be closed to conventional ve- in 1973. NHTSA subsequentlyrebuffed several efforts to reinstate
hicles permanently or for certain hours, narrower and cheaper a similar exemption, reflecting its insistence that all vehicles meet
roads ca1~ be built for NEVs (for instance through cul-de-sacs), et
the samestandards (8) (see paper by Lipman al., this Record).
It is uncertain howdifficult it wouldbe to obtain an exemption production, but this and most other liability determinations are
or create a new category for NEVs. highly subjective. In the opinion of one product liability expert
Manufacturersare left with two options: they maypetition for on
speaking at a workshop subcars, NEVs pose no greater liability
an amendment any impractical standard and may apply for a than any other vehicle, as long as an appropriate effort is made
temporary exemption. It is difficult to win amendments.Exemp- to avoid r!..zks (9). Oneexceptionto this conclusionmaybe three-
tions may be granted on the basis of substantial economichard- wheel vehicles with the single wheel in front; this configuration
ship for a manufacturerthat produces 2,500 vehicles per year (for is widely considered to be more dangerousthan the single-wheel-
manufacturersof less than 10,000vehicles per year), as an aid in in-back configuration.
the development of newvehicle safety or low-emission engine The goal from both safety and liability perspectives maybe to
features, or for vehicles that provide a level of safety equivalent create designated areas for NEVs,for instance, "drive-slow"
to that provided by conventional vehicles. A NEV would easily zones. A NEV involved in an accident while in such a zone would
qualify on the low-emission criteria, and possibly on the other not
be assumed to be at fault--just as is the case with pedestrians
two grounds as well. The exemptions are renewable, but it is in crosswalks.
uncertain how manyrenewals would be granted.
The safety of NEVs possibly the most critical issue in de-
termining howand where to introduce NEVs.Unfortunately little TRAFFIC CONTROL RULES AND GOLF
evidence is available to makea reasonable determination, largely CART PRECEDENT
because the safety record is sensitive to the design of the vehicle
and how it is used. Bolder thinking is needed. Safety regulators For a vehicle to be operated on a public road in the United States
must consider safety in context: one context is slow and small it must be registered with the state’s departmentof motor vehicles
cars and bikes in specially designed neighborhoods. and must be in compliancewith federal safety standards for pas-
senger vehicles or motorcycles or hold a special exemption.
Three-wheel NEVs evade these restrictions because most states
LIABILITY will probably alIow them to be registered as motorcycles. In some
states even four-wheel NEVs be allowed (see paper by Lip-
NEVs smaller and therefore inherently less safe, all else being manet at., this Record); Arizona, for instance, allows golf carts
equal, than conventional vehicles, but this difference does not au- to be registered as recreational vehicles and to be licensed as mo-
tomatically imply that a manufacturer or anyoneelse is more vul- torcycles. Theonly regulation facing golf carts in Arizona, in ad-
nerable to legal action° Indeed legal precedent suggests that NEVs dition to those related to licensing and registration, is that they
wouldnot create extra liability risk (9). must not impedethe flow of traffic.
Productliability falls into three categories: strict liability, neg- The most likely entry by NEVs into the urban communityis
ligence, and warranty. Negligence or warranty violations are not suggested by recent urban experiences with golf carts. Until re-
relevant because NEVs not present new or unique negligence cently in C.alifomia golf carts were only allowed on streets within
or warranty issues. Strict liability maybe due to manufacturing, 2.4 km of a golf course with speed limits of 40 km/hr or less.
design, or warning defects, in determining liability risks for Under pressure from Palm Desert, California, a small affluent
NEVs,one question is pivotal: Does the use of a NEV pose any communitywhere goff carts were becoming increasingly popular
unreasonable danger to the user? substitutes for cars, the state’s AttorneyGeneral loosenedthe in-
A NEV clearly poses a danger: if the vehicle hits a truck, the terpretation of state law to allow golf carts to operate on any street
occupants are likely to suffer more injury than if they had been with a speed limit of 40 km/hr or less, as long as the vehicle was
in a 2-metric*ton luxury car. Is it, legally speaking, an unreason- registered with the Department of Motor Vehicle, had license
able danger? Probably not. Legal precedent suggests that the dan- plates, and was equipped with certain minimal safety features
ger is unreasonable only if the danger is not clear and obvious to (e.g., headlightsand reflectors).
the user of the vehicle. As long as a vehicle appears to be very TheAttorney General also allowed local authorities to designate
different from a conventional vehicle, whichby definition they certain streets for combineduse by both golf carts and conven-
wilI, then the liability risk is low. tional vehicles. Onthose streets the golf cart does not have to be
This same reasoning protects manufacturers of bicycles and mo- in
registered with the state or equipped any particular way, as long
torcycles from litigation. Clearly motorcycles are dangerous, but as it is not operatedafter dark.
by being aware of this danger, the driver implicitly is accepting Accordingly in January 1993 Palm Desert designated manylo-
the risk. Thedanger is therefore not unreasonable. cal streets for combineduse, with the requirement that the golf
An exception would be if a manufacturer could have signili- carts be electric, registered with the city (out not the state), and
cantly improved vehicle safely at a small cost--as Ford Motor be outfitted with headlights, turn signals, mirrors, a horn, and re-
Company could have done to eliminate the exploding gasoline flectors. Lanes have been painted on the streets to limit commin-
tanks in its Pinto automobiles. NEV manufacturers might be vuI- gling with larger vehicles.
nerable to this argument because there will be considerable ex- Palm Desert’s treatment of golf carts illustrates how NEVs
perimentation initially in designing an inexpensive NEV.For in- in
could be accommodated local communities, even without the
stance even the apparently simple problemof installing an air bag blessing of federal safety regulators; NEVs that cannot meet safety
is not simple; because the size and materials of the NEV might standards designed for conventional cars could be treated by local
be different from those of a conventional car, the triggering and and state governments as special cases and accommodatedac-
design of the detonator and bag must be unique to these vehicles. cordingly. Thechallenge is to do so in a safe manner.
NEV manufacturers are protected somewhatif their designs are Ultimately federal safety regulators wiiI have to address NEVs.
determined to be state of the art in manufacturingat the time of The precedents being established in communities such as Palm
.Desert will provide the evidence and motivation to design future Thesefive marketniches could be just the beginning. Initially
lmles and regulations that accommodateNEVs and protect the neighborhood electric cars will not be accepted in most locations
safety of NEV users. because of safety problems in mixing with muchlarger vehicles
and because road and parking infrastructure is not suited to their
use. But as neighborhoodcars gain acceptance in various niches,
local governments developersare likely to alter road and park-
ing infrastructure to accommodate even reward users of these
Oneimportant niche for NEVs resort communities and facili-
is vehicles. At the same time lobbying groups will emerge to push
ties. These are generally located on mountains, at seashores, and for changesin liability and traffic control rules that hinder the
m other environmentally fragile areas where clean and uncon- market penetration of NEVs.
gested environments are highly valued° A subset of this market Unfortunately credible quantitative estimates of market pene-
1niche is ownersof the approximately 3 million second homesin tration have not and cannot be madeat this time. Research into
vacation are.~s of the United States. They could purchase a NEV is
the potential market for NEVs fragmentary and speculative. It
and leave it .at the vacation home use on visits. Anothersubset appears, however, that the long-term market for NEVs could be
of this marketniche is park areas, such as Yosemite,wherevehicle millions per year in the United States. Even in the short term,
exhaust is damaging natural environment.A plausible strategy
the with little change in consumerexpectations and various govern-
~is to ban gasoline- and diesel fuel-poweredvehicles and replace ment rules, the marketmight be sizable. Accordingto unpublished
I:hem with electric buses, electric cars, and NEVs.Accordingto industry marketing studies, about 140,000 golf carts and small
an unpublishedindustry report, about 110 million people visit the electric industrial vehicles are sold annually in the UnitedStates;
68 national parks and recreation areas in the United States an- one such study estimates that about 20,000golf carts are used in
nually, and manymore visit national seashore parks and other part for personal transportation. Marketpenetration will depend
l.rederal, state., and local recreation andtourist areas. Thepotential and
on a large numberof factors related to ZEV safety rule mak-
for daily anti hourly rental of small EVsat these sites is large. ing, local initiatives to accommodate NEVs,liability rulings, rul-
A second niche is closed neighborhoods and communities ings regarding traffic control, andthe entrepreneurial initiative of
where speeds are controlled and communities are receptive to manufacturers.
NEVs.Palm Desert, California, is one such community.
A third marketniche is mobility-impairedindividuals, estimated
l:o include about 10 million people in the United States. NEVs are CONCLUSIONS
~sy to drive partly because they operate at slow speeds and are
:;mall and e.’tsy to maneuver.This ease of driving can be easily NEVs are not a panacea for near-term problems, but they are
enhanced. Controls can be designed for hands only, similar to the energyefficient, emit low levels of pollutants, and are scaled for
Ihousands of motorized wheelchairs and many retrofitted gasoline- neighborhooduse. NEVs would use less space than conventional
poweredvelcdcles. Anotherenhancement the use of partially or vehicles, provide the premise for lowering vehicle speeds in
lhlly automatedcontrols. Automated controls are mucheasier and neighborhoods,and help create a more pedestrian-friendly setting
cheaper to instaU on NEVs than on full-size vehicles because the while still providing high levels of mobility. Theyalso wouldbe
:;peeds are muchlower. Manyservice and delivery vehicles in economical, in part because they are an ideal application of
lhctories are already fully automated,madepossible by their slow battery-poweredelectric propulsion. Indeed it is a fortunate co-
,;peeds (and a relatively controlled environment).Partial controls incidence that the marketapplications in whichelectric vehicles
could be installed on NEVs aid with steering or braking and are best suited--short trips--are also the applications in which
In avoid collisions. Automated vehicle control for conventional " EVsprovide the largest environmentalbenefits. NEVs clearly are
cars is already a primary focus of research in Cal/fornia and by an attractive option. Theyfit well into any vision of a sustainable
the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systemsprogramof the U.S. De- transportation-energyfuture.
partment of Transportation as well as manycompanies. With the However,will this good idea ever be realized? NEVs confront
expanding population of elderly people, manyof whom are mo- large perceptual, physical, and regulatory barriers. Thereis a uni-
bility impaired, neighborhoodcars could become increasingly im- formity of expectations by consumers,government regulators, and
tx~rtant as a means transport. highwaysuppliers that results in all vehicles being expected to
A fourth raarket niche is those individuals whodrive short dis- satisfy all purposes, all roads serving all vehicles, and all rules
lances to urban rail transit stations and bus park-and-ridelots. The being designedfor the standard vehicle of the past. Theresult is
vehicle for this niche is sometimesreferred to as a station car. an inertia that discourages innovation and change by vehicle sup-
NEVs well suited to this application. If the vehicle is owned pliers and users. The success of NEVs will dependon aa openness
by the rail operator or a third party and is used by multiple drivers by regulators and highwaysuppliers to newtypes of vehicles and
and for other purposes during the day, the cost could be spread entrepreneurial initiative by vehicle manufacturers.
over a large numberof people, thereby reducing the cost per trip
A fifth market niche is large new developments that can be ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
designed specifically for NEVs.In California alone neighborhood
electric cars are being consideredas integral elementsin four new A study of NEVs, from whichthis paper is derived, was conducted
town developments covering over 40,000 ha. Several developers under the auspices of Caistart, a public-private consortiumin Cal-
are consider~mgproviding a neighborhoodelectric car with some ifornia, with funding from FTAand the California Energy Com-
or all houses sold in the newtowns. Thepotential marketin these mission. The author is grateful to TimothyLipman, AramStein,
newtowns is in the hundreds of thousands. Kenneth Kurani, Paul MacCready,Cece Martin, and Michael Re-
plogle for their manyinsights and careful reviews of this paper; 5. Wang,Q., M. A. DeLuchi,and D. Sperling. Emission Impacts of Elec-
Lon Bell for supporting and encouraging the project; and William tric Vehicle~. Journal of Air and Waste Management Association, Vol.
40, 1990, pp. 1275-1284.
Garrison for his inspiration. 6. Johnson, E. W. Avoidingthe Colltsion of Cities and Cars: UrbanTrans-
portation Policy for the Twenty-first Century. AmericanAcademy of
Arts and Sciences, Chicago, Ill., 1993.
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Small Cars in Neighborhoods. UCB-ITS-PRR-93-2. University of Cali-
I. Sperling, D. Future Drtve: Electric Vehtcles and Sustainable Trans- fornia, Berkeley, 1993.
portation. Island Press, Covelo, Calif., 1994. 8. Sparrow, E T., and R. K. Whitford. The Coming Mini/MicroCar Crisis:
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p. 14. 1984, pp. 289-303.
3. EPAReport 420-R-93-007, EPA, Washington, D.C., 1993 (Cited in 9. Wrede, R. Appendix D of Final Report on Jumpstart Workshop,Sub-
E. W. Johnson. Taming the Car and Its User: Should WeDo Both? Cars. AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, Calif., June 2, 1993.
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4. Garrison, W.L., and J.F. Clarke. Studies of the Neighborhood Car
Concept. Report 78-4. College of Engineering, University of California, Publication of this paper sponsored by Committeeon Alternative Trans-
Berkeley, 1977. portation Fuels.