An Electric Car that Goes the Distance
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A fitfully interesting case study of the collision of alternative technology, big business, and government. Automotive business writer Sherman (In The Rings of Saturn, 1993) here turns to the inspiring example of a young man named James Worden, an engineering graduate of MIT, who had for years been obsessed by the thought of building an energy-efficient, safe, and affordable electric car. Armed with moral support and sweat equity from college friends who shared his vision, he founded a company called Solectria, which made several commercial automobiles, including the whimsically named Force and the user-friendly Sunrise. When the Big Three automakers found out about Worden’s work, Sherman alleges, they set to work trying to get a corner on alternative-energy legislation (their efforts to bring an electric car to market have been extensively reported on by Michael Shnayerson and others). These companies effectively edged out Worden, who survived in the market only because, in the wake of the Gulf War, the Pentagon decided to examine the prospects of building energy-efficient electric vehicles to serve under battlefield conditions. Regrettably, Sherman has trouble separating the meat of his story from incidental details, and especially from unrevealing, often irrelevant excursions in automotive history. The resulting narrative is patchy at best, plodding at worst—a misfortune, given the intrinsic merits of the story. For Worden’s vision remains attractive; who could resist, after all, the promise of a vehicle in which, —instead of hundreds of precision-engineered moving parts operating at high temperature, there were a motor with one moving part and a controller with no moving parts—? In the hands of a Tracy Kidder, this story might have become a model of literary journalism. In Sherman’s hands, it fails to move. (b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-19-509479-4
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998


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