As both General Motors Corp and Chrysler are about to submit their detailed restructuring plans in hopes of securing additional bailout billions, it is natural to wonder what would have happened if GM had not killed the EV1?
"I think that they would be sitting pretty," says longtime automotive journalist James Raia.
It was 1996 and Los Del Rio – Macarena was the number one song blaring from American car radios. General Motors had spent an estimated 1 billion dollars to build first modern production electric vehicle.
According to Wikipedia:
"The EV1 electric cars were available in California and Arizona in a limited (3 year/30,000 mile) "lease only" agreement. EV1s were marketed at first only in Los Angeles, CA and Phoenix/Tucson, AZ."
The lucky few drivers who were able to get their hands on the EV1 loved the cars. These included some of Hollywood's biggest stars at the time.
But Wikipedia reports, "The EV1 was discon
tinued after 1999, with all examples subsequently
removed from the roads in 2003 by General Motors and crushed, except
for a select few for edu
cational purposes or museum pieces. GM stated that it could not sell enough of the cars to make the EV1 profitable."
According to GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, his worst decision of his tenure at GM was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn’t affect profitability, but it did affect image."
That's putting it mildly to say the least.
"If they had developed the car they would have a distinct advantage in the world today," Raia went on to say.
The initial EV1 used lead acid batteries but the later models had NiMH batteries as an option. The car was able to go about 160 miles on a full charge and a total of 1,117 units were built.
What really outraged the public and created a publicity backlash for GM was that the car manufacturer crushed all most all of the cars partially due advice from their legal department.
According to the March 13, 2007, issue of Newsweek, "GM R&D chief Larry Burns . . . now wishes GM hadn't killed the plug-in hybrid EV1 prototype his engineers had on the road a decade ago:
"If we could turn back the hands of time,' says Burns, 'we could have had the Chevy Volt 10 years earlier."
Which brings this story full circle to today's headlines. It is now up to the Obama administration to decide if they can trust a company that foolishly killed the future of automotive development for short term gain with billions of tax payer dollars.
But then again we were all listening to Los Del Rio – Macarena back in 1996, and many of us could not wait for GM to start selling the tamer civilian version of the Hummer.