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GM Dropped The Ball On The EV1

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On: Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 3:34PM | By: Clay Ritchings

GM Dropped The Ball On The EV1

One of the most high profile and controversial cars in modern history, GM's electric EV1, evolved from the GM Impact concept car. Through the years, the limited production EV1 has been held high by electric vehicle enthusiasts as a poster child for the electric vehicle's "success", and ultimate demise.

The GM concept car that debuted at the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show was created by the automotive and energy efficiency wizards at AeroVironment, under the direction of Paul MacCready, renowned for his work in energy efficient vehicles of all types. Shortly after that, General Motors announced that the automaker would build the electric car. This generated tremendous media attention, but was a surprise to many within his own company since much of the technology did not yet exist to transform the concept car into reality.

After many drive motors and platforms were explored, GM decided that a single and powerful AC induction motor was best for the job in the production vehicle. The evolution from concept to real vehicle involved concessions to the realities of manufacturability, with some changes in body style evident, but the EV1 still maintained its slippery aerodynamics and low rolling resistance The EV1 featured the lowest coefficient of drag of any production vehicle at 0.19 Cd.

The batteries that would power this new vehicle were Nickel-metal-hydride batteries — the same technology that powers today's hybrid vehicles — and provided enough energy in Gen 2 (second generation) EV1s for a 100 to 120 mile driving range. Now I have to admit that this sounds impressive, but you still would have to consider the climate that any electric vehicle would have to operate in. For instance, I could not imagine that an EV would perform very well driving in Minnesota in the dead of winter; this would shorten your range dramatically. Even with that being said, it is still very good range, considering most Americans drive less than 40 miles per day. Compared to the new Prius Plug-In Hybrid Concept that will only get 12.5 miles in EV mode using newer more advanced lithium-ion batteries, it sounds even better.

In 1996, GM introduced its new EV1 electric car at select Saturn dealerships in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, and several other cities. EV1s were leased only and no purchase was available. GM needed to maintain ultimate ownership over the highly advanced and extremely expensive vehicles that were using all-new technology. That was their way to feel out the market.

Those who leased the EV1 loved it, and reported that “it was a joy to drive”. As a matter of fact, many celebrities were happy owners and proponents of the EV1. When GM ended the EV1 program in 2003, many owners tried their best to keep the beloved EV1s, protesting at GM holding lots while car carriers pulled in loaded with the returned vehicles that were ultimately crushed. (Watch: “Who Killed The Electric Car” Below)

GM was not alone. Each auto manufacturer ultimately ceased production and marketing of its electric vehicles after meeting the numbers and terms required by the agreements signed with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for the test marketing of electric cars.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if GM had the vision to continue the development of the EV1 program. Would GM be the leader of alternative powered vehicles? Would GM be able to take advantage of the almost criminal gas prices that Americans endured recently by offering alternative vehicles? What other areas would have benefited from the technology?

The EV1 may be gone, but not forgotten; in fact the technologies developed by the EV1 program have been applied to GM's hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, and the Volt. I don’t know about you, but I am excited about the new vehicles on the horizon and really happy that GM has picked up the ball and is running with it again.

Note: The most successful EV ever made, the Toyota RAV4-EV, is still active in California in fleet and individual use, still running on the original pre-2002 Nickel Metal Hydride batteries and still retaining a range over 100 miles, even though Toyota is not providing replacement batteries.

Several frustrated GM EV1 designers and engineers left for the Tesla program after GM took the EV project away from them.

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imwithcoco | 4:53PM (Fri, Nov 6, 2009)

Who Killed The Electric Car is a good documentary just a little self-serving. It is amazing to see how quickly the car manufacturers quit making EV's once the California law was found unconstitutional.


RoadKill | 5:18PM (Fri, Nov 6, 2009)

you're right they should not have focused on only GM and included other manufacturers

  • RoadKill

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