More than two decades ago, the California Air Resources Board told automobile manufacturers if they wanted to continue selling gasoline-powered cars in the state, they also had to offer electric vehicles.
As the documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? tells it, the major manufacturers had turned out almost 5,000 electric cars when the board, under pressure from carmakers and oil interests, reversed its mandate. Most of those electric cars were then destroyed or donated to museums and educational institutions. About 50 of General Motor’s EV-1 cars survived the carnage, and one of them found a home on the campus of WPI.
“Somehow, WPI happened to end up with one,” says Liz Tomaszewski, WPI’s associate director of sustainability and facilities systems manager.
The EV-1, which has “no guts,” as Tomaszewski puts it, is being rebuilt by student automotive engineers and will be on display Thursday at the Electric Vehicle and Fuel Efficient Vehicle Show, taking place from 5 to 8 p.m. in the parking lot of Higgins House.
The EV-1 will have plenty of company at this year’s show. More than 25 electric and fuel efficient vehicles will be on display, featuring cars for sale by dealers and others touted by their owners. One of those private cars will be WPI President Laurie Leshin’s Tesla. Visitors can also see an electric motorcycle and one of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority’s electric buses.
Dealers will offer test drives of their vehicles, as well as sales incentives. A number of sustainable-themed vendors are participating in the show, including ChargePoint, EnergyROI, and MassRides.
Campus director of sustainability John Orr, vice president at National Grid Ed White, and executive director of the area’s Institute for Energy and Sustainability Joe Bush will speak at the event, a joint effort of the institute and the WPI Student Green Team. The show takes place during National Drive Electric Week, when events such as this are featured in 165 cities. The goal is to showcase the cost savings, clean air benefits and fun of electric vehicles.
This is the fourth year WPI has held an electric car show. The first one featured just a few vehicles, including the school’s EV-1, a Chevrolet Volt, and a student’s 1956 BMW Isetta, according to Tomaszewski.
“It wasn’t an event with a lot of vehicles,” she says, “but it kind of kindled the interest in green transportation. The Student Green Team really rallied around it.”
Despite falling gas prices in recent months, Tomaszewski notes the importance of moving to green transportation. “In the end, we really need to get away from fossil fuels,” she says. “The cost isn’t only financial.”
The school has been doing its part. A few years ago, a station to simultaneously charge two electric vehicles was installed in the center of campus, and a similar station was added to new the parking garage.
“The school has been pretty insightful in trying to lay the groundwork for the infrastructure for electric vehicles,” Tomaszewski says, adding that there are a number of student projects on alternative transportation and other initiatives in the works. “We’re trying to walk the talk as far as transportation goes.”
The Electric Vehicle and Fuel Efficient Vehicle Show is open to the public. Tomaszewski says the hours of the show, which had previously been held in the afternoon, were pushed into the evening to broaden attendance.
– BY DAVE GREENSLIT