LOS ANGELES, Jan. 4 -- General Motors announced Thursday it will begin selling electric cars in Southern California and Arizona later this year, marking the first time the vehicles have been offered in the mass retail market. The two-seat car, dubbed the General Motors EV1, is the first to be designed from the ground up for electric power. The car will go 70 to 90 miles between battery charges. The EV1 will be built in Lansing, Mich., and will be sold by Saturn dealers, though it will be the first car in GM's history to carry a General Motors nameplate. It will be priced in the mid-$30,000 range and will have a top speed of 80 mph. The car will initially be sold in Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson and Phoenix -- areas that provide the most favorable topographic and climatic conditions for electric vehicle operation, GM officials said. They noted that Saturn launched its first models in the Southwestern states in 1990 in much the same way. 'It's a car for people who never want to go to the gas station again,' said GM Chairman John F. Smith Jr., who made the announcement at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. GM officials said the EV1 is the first product in a 'portfolio of high-technology products' they will introduce in the years ahead. GM said it would also begin selling a compact Chevrolet S-10 electric pickup truck in 1997 that will use the same technologies as the EV1.
Sales will be restricted to fleet customers such as government agencies and utilities companies. The truck, being built in Shreveport, La., is expected to go 40 to 60 miles before it has to be re-charged. The pickup's price will be established as it comes closer to the marketplace, GM said. Pre-production examples of the car and truck will be on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which both open to the public Saturday. Both vehicles will be powered by lead acid batteries, but could eventually be replaced by more powerful batteries that could double the car's range. Saturn President Donald Hudler said GM will prove that a market can be developed for electric vehicles, and that the company will 'let the marketplace tell us what the answer is.' GM says it has invested $350 million to date in its electric vehicle development program, but officials said they don't expect a quick recovery on that investment and are instead 'taking a long-term perspective.' General Motors launched a nationwide field test in 1994 called 'PrEView' that allowed several hundred people to drive electric vehicles for two-week periods in 11 cities. GM said the inductive charging system that will be used in the EV1 and the electric pickup truck has been well received by drivers in the 'PrEView' program.GM officials noted that work on the electric vehicles began in 1990 -- before California air quality regulators passed stringent standards requiring major automakers to begin selling mass-produced, non-polluting electric cars in 1998. The restrictions, which increase to 5 percent by 2001 and 10 percent to 2003, are now being reconsidered by the California Air Resources Board. The agency's staff recommended last month that the requirements be suspended until 2003, and that automakers participate instead in a 'partnership program' to promote and evaluate the cars' development.