Electric Vehicle - EV1

Between 1996 and 1999 GM produced the electric vehicle EV1 and it inspired the Californian Air Resources Board (CARB for short) to pass a mandate that required the big seven car manufacturers to produce zero-emission vehicles. The EV1 was made available only through a lease construction without the option to purchase it at the end of the lease period.


The public received the EV1 with great enthusiasm, but GM considered the EV1 not profitable enough. They were only able to lease eight hundred vehicles in a period of four years. Together with the other big car manufacturers they went to court, which ended in less stringent conditions of the mandate. Instead of pure electric vehicles they were also allowed to produce low emission vehicles and hybrids. In 2002 the EV1 program was terminated and the cars that were still out on the road were repossessed and most of them were destroyed. A few were donated to a museum or a university, dismantled and with the agreement not to reactivate and drive them on the road again; almost as if talking about a weapon of mass destruction. 


GM's EV1
The termination of the EV1 program has been highly debated (and still gets a lot of attention), it even led to the movie “Who killed the electric car?” and a book by the same name. GM claimed there was no market for the EV1 and that it was not profitable enough to continue with it. The EV1 fan-base (people who had driven one, environment groups, etc.) claimed the program was discontinued to prevent losses on spare parts sales (spare parts are highly profitable for internal combustion engine vehicles, but since an electric vehicle has less moving parts, there is less to profit from), but also because it would disturb the status quo of the big oil companies.
An ad on the EV1
Currently, GM is about to unleash the Chevrolet Volt, their first big hybrid, onto the market. In an interview GM R&D chef Larry Burns now wishes GM had not killed the plug-in hybrid EV1 prototype his engineers had on the road a decade ago. “We could have had the Chevy Volt 10 years earlier” he said.
What made the EV1 different from other attempts of the big car makers at an electric vehicle, was that first of all this one became a big hit, but also this vehicle was not some conventional car converted with a battery and an electric motor; this one was an EV from scratch. 
The technical properties of the EV1 that also helped achieve its great performance was for example the aluminium being used in the construction of the vehicle. This made it very light, ensuring more miles could be covered on the same battery charge. Also body panels were made of plastic, taking out more weight and making the vehicle dent resistant. On top of it, they also introduced anti-lock brakes, traction control, a keyless entry and ignition system, electric power steering and a few others. Many of which were later used in today’s cars. The EV1 was fitted with low-rolling resistance tires and had a very low drag coefficient, which also helped boost the performance of the car.
Succes or failure is a tricky question to answer. It was a success because it was one of the first electric vehicles that became a hit. It showed that it was technologically possible to create an electric vehicle that had good properties and was practical to use. From GM’s perspective, it was not really a commercial success, though if they would have kept the EV1 back then, we might already be driving in electric vehicles or hybrids by now and they would have gotten a head start. Toyota had its Prius out in that time and that is currently a well known car.


Electric Vehicle – Once upon three times…

Among the first cars on the road, some of them were electric already. As with the other cars of that time (around 1900), they were expensive, slow and had a very limited range. From 1828 till early 1900, various inventions have led to the first electric cars. Electric cars have held many records at that time, a famous one being an electric vehicle driven by Camille Jenatzy in his rocketshaped electric vehicle, the ‘Jamais Contente’ (Never satisfied). He drove the vehicle at a speed over 100km per hour (105 km per hour to be exact).


The ‘Jamais Contente’


Electric cars were initially popular with people who could not afford to have a permanent mechanic around for the repairs that combustion engine cars needed at the time. Also the electric car was popular with women as they did not require hard work to get started (starting a combustion engine was still dangerous and resulted in a lot of injuries!).


As popular as the electric car was, this all changed at the start of what is called ‘The age of oil’. The discovery of large oil wells, the increasing reliability of internal combustion engines and the addition of the (electric!) start motor cleared a lot of the obstacles for the combustion engine car. Add in the factor that electric vehicles still had limited range, while petrol cars could be refilled and allowed a lot more range, plus the famous T-Ford which opened up having a car for millions of people quickly put an end of the electric vehicle.


The second time electric vehicles appeared on the streets was due to legislation in California, which required car manufacturers to produce electric cars. This legislation was driven by CARB and the main goal was to decrease pollution in the cities. The still famous EV1 was born and hit the streets. The EV1 was taken out of production by GM and this process has been rather controversial; it even lead to a movie - “Who killed the electric car”. In the end, CARB was sued by a few large auto manufacturers, resulting in the neutering of the ZEV legislation. 


The EV1 from GM

Fueled by the energy crisis around 2000, the first hybrids emerged. This was introduced to overcome the small ranges offered by petrol cars, but also compensate for the high mileage some cars had around that time. The introduction of the famous Toyota Prius also inspired other companies to pursue research to electric cars again; the public wanted to be freed from the troubles of the oil-addiction and the fluctuations in the oil prices.


In 2008 another famous car was introduced; the Tesla Roadster. This car proved to the public driving electric was not only about saving the environment or not being addicted to oil anymore, it can also be great fun! With the many other electric cars being announced on the market as of today, it becomes clear it is here to stay this time.

The Tesla Roadster


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