There is a common -- but incorrect -- perception that electric cars are technically and economically unfeasible. Ironically, this position has been most aggressively promulgated by General Motors, creators of the highly successful EV1. Perhaps that is why GM is pulling functional EV1s off the roads, to its own financial detriment and to the distress of drivers, who fear the cars will be destroyed.
The GM EV1 is a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) powered purely by electricity, capable of traveling 70-140 miles per charge at speeds up to 80 MPH (artificially limited by a speed governer). It can accelerate from 0 to 30 MPH in under 3 seconds and 0 to 60 MPH in under 9 seconds. Its (NiMH) batteries are charged through special inductive chargers in drivers' garages or at public charging stations. The EV1 is a two-door, two-seat coupe, with an aerodynamic body, with all of the features of a modern car, such as air conditioning and CD player. Electric vehicles are inherently simpler and more efficient than gasoline-burning cars, as power goes straight from the battery through the motor to the wheels, eliminating the need for an engine or transmission. When the car slows, energy from the wheels actually recharges that battery, in what is called "regenerative braking". [There are EV1 drivers in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta areas who would be happy to let reporters try their cars.]
GM took the lead in zero-emission vehicles with its solar-powered Sunraycer, which set a world record in the 3000-km 1987 World Solar Challenge race across Australia. In 1990, GM chairman Roger Smith demonstrated an electric concept car, Impact, and announced that GM would produce it in quantity. In 1994, a modified Impact set the world electric vehicle speed record by completing a mile in 19.44 seconds (183.075 MPH).
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) was founded in 1967, in response to California's air being worse than that of the other 49 states combined [Shnayerson, p. 50]. After the federal government enacted the Clean Air Act in 1970, California was the only state allowed to regulate its own emissions. In 1990, impressed by the GM Impact, CARB ruled that each of the seven biggest carmakers -- the largest of which was GM -- would need to make 2% of its fleet emission-free by 1998, 5% by 2001, and 10% by 2003.
Simultaneously fighting against and preparing for the CARB regulations, GM debuted 50 handbuilt Impacts for a consumer study in 1994. As Matthew L. Wald wrote in a front page New York Times story (January 28, 1994):
General Motors is preparing to put its electric vehicle act on the road, and planning for a flop.
With pride and pessimism, the company, the furthest along of the Big Three in designing a mass-market electric car, says that in the face of a California law that requires that 2 percent of new cars be "zero emission" vehicles beginning in 1997, it has done its best but that the vehicle has come up short.... Now it hopes that lawmakers and regulators will agree with it and postpone or scrap the deadline.
Against GM's perverse expectations, the Impact release was a huge success. GM's Sean McNamara organized the PrEView program, in which the 50 cars would be lent for 1-2 week periods to consumers who agreed to log their experiences. McNamara expected at most eighty volunteers in Los Angeles but closed the phone lines ahead of schedule after 10,000 calls [Shnayerson, p. 182]. In metropolitan New York, 14,000 calls were logged before the lines were prematurely closed [Shanayerson, p. 182; Wald 1994]. Drivers' response to the cars was overwhelmingly favorable, as were reports in car magazines. Motor Trend reported: "The Impact is precisely one of those occasions where GM proves beyond any doubt that it knows how to build fantastic automobiles. This is the world's only electric vehicle that drives like a real car." Automobile called the car's ride and handling "amazing," praising its "smooth delivery of power". GM subsequently destroyed the cars.
The production version of the Impact was called the GM EV1. (It is the only car in GM's history to be branded with the company's name instead of one of its divisions.) GM made 660 Generation 1 (Gen1) EV1s. In December 1996, GM provided a limited launch of the EV1 in what many believe to be a quid pro quo arrangement with CARB, which agreed to delay implementation of the first phase of the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate that had been scheduled to go into effect in 1998 [Kirsch 2000]. Powered by lead-acid batteries, the Gen1 had a range of 70-100 miles.
GM continued to show ambivalence toward the EV1. Their marketing was so dismal that one driver, Marvin Rush, spent $20,000 of his own money to produce and air four unauthorized radio commercials for the EV1. Rush, a cinematographer for "Star Trek: Voyager", got "Voyager" cast members, such as Robert Picardo, to provide voiceovers.
In 1999, GM's Ken Stewart, brand manager for the EV1 program, described the positive response from drivers [Moore 1999]:
I got some first hand experience in what I would call a wonderfully-manical loyalty to the car. They are absolutely in love with their vehicles and they are challenging the sales consultants on who knows more about the vehicle...
What we've learned from that is the vehicles themselves have had some advantages that we knew were pluses, but didn't know how strong they were. One was the styling. The other was the ride and handling and performance of the car. They really do love the car for the car's sake, as well as for some of the larger causes like zero emissions and helping the environment and just plain doing the right thing.
We find that compared to what we were expecting, the owners are driving the cars more, more miles, more trips, and have integrated it more into their lifestyle. So, it went from being a sort of novelty car for them to their primary source of transportation for most of the time.
GM produced the second generation of EV1 in 1999. These Gen2 cars were lighter weight, less expensive to make, quieter, and capable of supporting more advanced batteries than their predecessors. There were two models of Gen2 with different battery technologies. The lead-acid model had a range of 80-100 miles, while the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) model had a range of 100-140 miles. The cars were leased in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta areas for $349 to $574 per month. GM produced approximately 500 Gen2 cars. It is not known outside of GM how many were leased, but it is known that there were waiting lists of hundreds of drivers who wanted but could not get EV1s.
Despite having long waiting lists and enthusiastic drivers for the EV1, GM has declared that people do not want the EV1 and that the CARB mandates are thus impossible to meet. In 2000 CARB hearings, GM and Toyota claimed that a study they commissioned showed that people would only buy an electric car over a gasoline car if it were $28,000 less than a comparable gasoline car. Prof. Kenneth Train of UC Berkeley, who conducted the study, said that with a RAV4 SUV typically selling for $21,000, "Toyota would have to give the average consumer a free RAV4-EV plus a check for approximately $7,000" [Healey 2000].
An independent study commissioned by the California Electric Transportation Coalition (CalETC) and conducted by the Green Car Institute and the Dohring Company automotive market research firm found very different results. The "study the auto industry didn't want to see....used the same research methodologies employed by the auto industry to identify markets for its gasoline vehicles" [Moore 2000]. It found the annual consumer market for EVs to be 12-18% of the new light-duty vehicle market in California, amounting to annual sales of 151,200 to 226,800 electric vehicles [Green Car Institute, 2000], approximately ten times the quantity specified by CARB's mandate [Moore 2000]. The results of the Toyota-GM survey are also called into question by the success of Toyota's RAV4-EV, which has waiting lists of buyers at over $30,000.
Despite hundreds of enthusiastic drivers who now lease the car and hundreds more waiting to pay to drive the EV1 (of which approximately 1150 were produced), on February 7, 2002, GM Advanced Technology Vehicles brand manager Ken Stewart notified drivers that GM will remove the cars from the road, contrary to a statement two months earlier that GM would not be "taking cars off the road from customers" ["GM", 2001]. Drivers fear these working cars will be destroyed, because GM has crushed other functional electric cars in the past.
This summer, at least 58 EV1 drivers sent letters and deposit checks to GM asking for a lease extension at no risk or cost to GM. Specifically, drivers would be responsible for maintenance costs and repairs, and GM would have the right to terminate the lease if expensive repairs were needed. GM refused the offer and returned the checks, totaling over $22,000, on June 28. (In contrast, Honda extended the lease on their EV+.) In November, GM will begin reclaiming the cars, possibly to destroy them, as it has done with their past electric vehicles that were popular with drivers but provided embarrassing contradiction of GM's claims that nobody wanted EVs. While a minority of EV1s will be donated to museums and educational institutions, GM has allegedly received government permission to crush EV1s [Adams 2001].
On August 14, 2002, GM announced it would meet California emissions regulations by giving away thousands of golf cart-like vehicles, incapable of driving in regular traffic. Larry Burns, GM vice president of research, development, and planning, stated: "Customers don't want to buy electric vehicles", despite research and petitions showing that consumers do, in fact, want electric cars.
Many EV1 drivers are distressed that (1) the clean cars they love to drive and are willing to pay for will be taken off the roads, possibly to be destroyed, and (2) the press and public seems to believe GM's false claim that electric cars are a failure. They are considering press outreach, protests, and civil disobedience to educate the public. Some EV1 drivers are members of the Production Electric Vehicle Drivers Coalition (PEVDC) (http://www.pevdc.org), which, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (http://www.nrdc.org) filed a request to intervene in GM's federal suit against CARB. The hearing has been scheduled for September 30 in Fresno.
Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman leased their first EV, a Gen1 EV1, in mid-1999. Initial skepticism quickly gave way to enthusiasm and they leased a second EV1, a Gen2 car, in late 1999. They currently lease two 1999 EVs and a Toyota RAV4-EV, and own one of the AC Propulsion tzero prototypes. When GM crushes their EV1s, they'll be adding a second RAV4-EV to the stable. The Adelman's cars are "fueled" by a 30.5kW photovoltaic system, one of the largest residential systems in California. They can be contacted by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and telephone (831-728-0692).
Ron and Renate Chestnut of Mountain View have had two EV-1s. The first was a red 1997 Gen1 and the second a silver-blue 1999 Gen2. Ron replaced a decade-old Acura with the EV, since he was very interested in the new technology and only used the car for commuting to SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), where he works as a physicist. The range of the cars increased from an initial 50 miles to 90 miles (better lead-acid batteries) to 130 miles (Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries). Ron has held colloquia on electric vehicles and General Motor's lack of vision after their initial introduction. Renate uses the car gladly, especially to drive alone in the diamond lane during rush hour, on her way to Aikido practice. Ron has driven the EV-1 to Esalen (140 miles) and Arcata (320 miles) to "show the flag" and enjoy the long trips. In order to bridge the gap where so few electric vehicles are available, Ron is taking over the lease of an Chevrolet S10 Electric truck soon. He can be reached by email (email@example.com) or telephone (650-926-2450).
Steven Dibner has been a bassoonist with the San Francisco Symphony since 1983. After an awesome 24-hour test drive of the GM Impact in 1994, he scrawled a political message on the door of his green Karmann-Ghia: "MY NEXT CITY CAR WILL BE ELECTRIC". On March 31st, 1998, he was one of the first 10 people in Northern California to lease an EV1. Upgrading to the Generation 2 EV1 as soon as it was available in 1999, he found that charging from the solar panels on his roof in San Francisco made for negligible transportation costs. He gave free test drives to admiring onlookers almost every day, enjoying doing the PR work to promote this miraculous car that GM had kept so quiet. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Keith Golden and Ellen Spertus of San Francisco have leased a silver-blue Gen2 EV1 since Dec. 31, 1999. Golden drives it 40 miles each way to NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, where he does research in artificial intelligence. Although he can make the round-trip without refueling, he sometimes makes use of the public charger at NASA. On days when he telecommutes, his wife Spertus drives the EV1 20 miles to Mills College in Oakland, where she is a computer science professor. It was her idea that the license plate read "V EQ IR", a reference to Ohm's Law of electricity, which she teaches her students. In addition to the environmental benefits of the car, Spertus enjoys its great acceleration, driving in the carpool lane, and never having to take it to a gas station. Golden and Spertus can be reached by email (email@example.com) or telephone (415-225-3664).
Bob and Lynn Seldon of Santa Monica leased a Gen1 EV in 1998, which they upgraded to a Gen2 in 1999. The Seldons quickly overcame their initial fear and skepticism of electric cars. They found the acceleration unbelievable, and, with their 100+ mile range, they never came close to running out of electricity. Fuel costs were roughly half that of gasoline on a per mile basis, even at California's increased prices for electricity. They enjoyed the convenience of beginning each day with a "full tank" thanks to home charging and never needing to take the cars for oil changes, smog checks or tune-ups. The Seldons obtained a electric vehicle decal from the California DMV, permitting them to use the car-pool lanes with a single driver and to park for free at meters in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The EV1 was Bob's only daily vehicle, routinely taking him from Santa Monica to Irvine and Santa Barbara with occasional pleasure trips to Palm Springs and one roadtrip to the Arizona border. After GM announced that the EV1 program would be ended, the Seldons returned their EV1 and leased the Toyota RAV4-EV, about which they are also enthusiastic. Their license plate is "4GET GAS". Bob Seldon can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (310-209-4455).
Kathy and Ed Miller of Goleta (near Santa Barbara) have leased a Gen2 EV1 since December 1999. "It's a great car, and as of today we've driven it over 38,000 miles," says Ed, who is a retired electrical engineer. They can be seen here showing their car to their Congresswoman, Lois Capps, at the Santa Ynez Earth Day Celebration. Ed and Kathy, who is a retired school teacher, would be happy to talk or meet with the media (email@example.com, 805-968-5293).
Hugh E. Webber has gotten himself around Orlando, Florida, on a bicycle for 25 years. He has been a student of all types of electric vehicles for almost 20 years, with experience operating, servicing, and repairing pedicabs and electric golf carts. In January 2000, he visited Los Angeles for a family reunion and rented a red Gen2 EV1 from EV Rentals in the Budget lot at LAX. Hugh zipped around LA for four days, giving over a dozen relatives rides in what he called his "cherry bomb". The EV1's amazing acceleration especially delighted him, and he enjoyed beating muscle cars away from stoplights in Marina Del Rey. Hugh tried to buy an EV1 from GM soon after and was rebuffed; he has been agitating for availability of EVs ever since. Hugh author several EV1 petitions and an article published by PlanetSave.com. He says that he's just getting warmed up. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Barrington Daltrey of Riverside (email@example.com, 909-780-5131) and Jeffrey K. Joyner of Beverly Hills (firstname.lastname@example.org, 310-777-3725), both lawyers, would also be happy to speak with reporters and provide demonstration rides.
More profiles will be added. Drivers are available in and around San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta.