Total Production: 1,117 1996 - 1999 A futuristically shaped electric car, the EV1 was produced and leased by the General Motors Corporation from 1996 through 1999. This was the first time that a purpose-designed electric car was would be mass-produced in the modern era from a big automaker.
Before the EV1 was the Henney Kilowatt, a somewhat feasible production electric car that ended production in 1961. GM created Electrovair and Electrovette of 1966 and 1976, respectively, but neither of these model reached production. Very little had been done to develop the electric car until the EV1. Designed from the ground up to be an electric vehicle, the EV1 didn't share a drivetrain with another GM model, and wasn't a conversion of an existing car. This may have attributed somewhat to the EV1's downfall since the production and development costs were so high. GM engineer Kenneth Baker, the head of the Electrovette program in the 1970s was originally in charge of the EV1 program.
Launching their 1990 Impact electric concept car, GM received lots of positive feedback. The decision was made to mass-produce an electric car heavily based on the concept. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) after hearing about the concept passed a mandate that made the sale and production of zero-emission vehicles a condition in the U.S. to continue to market their cars in California.
The EV1 was only available initially to city residents in Los Angeles, California and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona through limited lease-only agreements. The chosen lessees were invited to be participants in a 'real-work engineering evaluation' market study into the viability of producing a commuter electric car in select U.S. markets. The cars weren't available for purchase, and could only be serviced as specific Saturn dealerships. Before one year had passed after the introduction of the EV1, leasing programs were launched in Sacramento and San Francisco, California, along with a controlled program in Georgia.
Despite favorable consumer appeal and a loyal fan base, GM didn't believe that the electric car would ever be a profitable market segment. Ignoring the dismay of protesting customers GM decided to crush all of their electric cars. Major automakers also allied together and litigated the CARB regulation in court, which resulted in a lessening of the ZEV stimulation, which allowed the companies to produce super-low-emissions vehicles, hybrid cars in place of pure electrics and natural gas vehicles.
In 2001 GM discontinued the EV1 program and all cars were repossessed without lessees given the option to purchase their vehicles from GM. GM cited parts, service and liability regulations as their reason behind the denial of sale. All but around 40 EV1s were crushed, while the remaining models were delivered to museums and educational institutes with their electric powertrains deactivated. The agreement was made that the cars were never to be reactivated and driven on the road. 20 models were sent overseas and donated to institutions. The Smithsonian Institution received the only intact EV1.
Many fans were quite upset at the removal of the EV1 from the market and claimed the GM self-sabotaged its electric car program to 'avoid potential losses in spare parts sales' (sales required by government regulations), while also pointing fingers at the oil industry for conspiring to keep electric cars off the road. Today a complete and working GMC EV1 is incredibly rare due to the forced repossession and destruction of the electric vehicle.
The Impact concept car was first debuted at the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show in January. Electric vehicle company AeroVironment was responsible for the development of the electric concept car and was inspired by GM's involvement in the 1987 World Solar Challenge, a trans-Australia race for solar vehicles. The original drive controller electronics for the Impact was constructed by Alan Cocconi of AC Propulsion and Hughes Electronics later refined the design. Roger Smith, GM Chairman in demonstrated the Impact at the Auto Show, and later announced on April 18th that it would become a production vehicle.
The California Air Resources Board made the rule that each of the U.S.'s seven largest carmarkers, which included GM, would be required to make 2% of its fleet emission-free by 1998, 5% by 2001, and 10% by 2003 in order to continue marking cars in California. This ordinance was made to combat California's poor air quality, which at the time was even worse than all 49 states combined.
GM embarked upon PrEView, which was a program that built fifty Impact electric cars that would be loaned to select drivers for short periods of one to two weeks. The requirements for this program included the experience to be logged and volunteers had to own a garage where the electric company could install a high-current charging unit. Believing that numbers would range around 80 volunteers, Sean McNamara, program supervisor, was shocked when more than 14,000 callers responded in interest. The phone lines had to be shut down from the response.
Both the automotive press and the volunteers responded favorably to the cars and remarked how 'This is the world's only electric vehicle that drives like a real car' according to Motor Trend. A revamped Impact set a land speed record of 183 mph for production electric vehicles that year. The only critics of the electric car it seemed, was GM. Believing their vehicle was destined for failure they reported in The New York Times that they were 'planning for a flop'.
GM hoped that lawmakers and regulators would agree to postpone or end the California law deadlines requiring 2% of new cars be 'zero emission' beginning in 1997. GM believed that their electric car has 'come up short' and viewed the PreEView program as a failure. GM considered the electric car not yet viable and Dennis Minano, GM's Vice President for Energy and Environment, wondered whether there was currently a need or design for electric vehicles. Eaton, Chairman of Chrysler questioned whether there was a market niche. This was all in direct opposition from Thomas C. Jorling, Commissioner of Environmental Conservation for New York State, who believed that consumers had plenty of interest in electric vehicles. Jorling, who had already adopted the California emission program, blamed automakers for not wanting to lose their multi-billion dollar investments in internal combustion engine technology.
Following testing the original 50 Impact cars were destroyed and work on the GM electric program resumed. The design had evolved into the GM EV1 by 1996 and would be the first GM car in history to sport a 'General Motors' nameplate rather than one of GM's marques.
Powered by lead-acid batteries, the first generation, or 'Gen I' car had an estimated range of 70 to 100 miles. In 1996 the Gen 1 models were fitted with lead-acid batteries that weighed 1,310 pounds and came from GM's Delphi branch. Rated at 53 amp-hours at 312 volts, these batteries initially provided a 60 mph range per charge. The only electric vehicle produced that met all of the U.S. Department of Energy's EV American performance goals at the time of its introduction was the lead-acid battery-equipped EV1.
In 1999 Gen II cars received a new lead-acid battery from Panasonic. These batteries were rated at 60 amp-hours at 312 volts and upped the EV1's range to 100 miles. Closely following the second generation of the EV1 was the nickel metal hydride (NiMG) 'Ovonic' battery pack which reduced the car's curb weight to 2,908 pounds and was retrofitted to earlier cars. These batteries gave the car a 160-mile range, nearly twice the range of the original Gen 1 models. The NiMH-equipped cars could take up to eight hours for a full charge. The Japanese battery pack included twenty-six 12 volt, 60 amp-hour lead-acid batteries that help 674 megajoules of energy. The NiMH battery pack consisted of twenty-six 13.2 volt and 77 ah nickel-metal hydride batteries that held 95.1 megajoules of energy.
Not only futuristic in looks, the EV1 also featured numerous innovative bells and whistles that would be eventually found on more traditional GM models along with other manufacturers models. Among the first production vehicles to use aluminum in the frame construction, the EV1's body panels were constructed of plastic rather than metal, and were incredibly lightweight and dent resistant. The EV1 came with a traction control system and Anti-lock brakes. It featured creature comforts like electric power steering, a unique one-way thermal glass for heat rejection on hot sunny days and keyless entry and ignition system. The EV1 also featured an automated tire pressure loss warning system and a time-programmable HVAC system.
The EV1 had a low drag coefficient and reference area of 0.19 and 0.36 m² respectively to boost efficiency. Fitted with light magnesium alloy wheels and seats, the car featured strength despite their low weight and self-sealing, low-rolling resistance tires from Michelin helped round out the efficient package that made up the EV1. The subcompact 2-door coupé had an overall length of 169.7 inches and a width of 69.5 inches.
The EV1's 3-phase AC induction electric motor pumped out 137 brake horsepower at 7000 rpm and could deliver its full torque capacity throughout its power band producing 110 pound-feet of torque between 0-7000 rpm. This allowed the use of either a manual or automatic gearbox. Power came to the front wheels through a single-speed reduction integrated transmission.
The first 660 cars were painted red, silver and dark green. Offered through a leasing program, these cars were not available for purchase and were protected from this by a contractual clause with a suggested retail price of $34,000. Lessees were once again pre-screened by GM, just like the PrEView program, and only Southern California and Arizona residents were allowed to participate.
Getting behind the wheel of an EV1 was a different experience from that of a conventional gas or diesel vehicle. The EV1 had the lowest drag coefficient of any production automobile in history at 0.19, while standard production vehicle range 0.3 to 0.4 drag coefficients. Producing less wind noise at highway speeds, the clean shape of EV1 provided a comfortable and cozy driving experience for its inhabitants. The car barely made a peep in lower speeds and when stationary except for a slight whine from the single-speed gear reduction element.
Hard to miss in a crowded parking lot, the EV1 had a distinct waterfall tail, smooth shape and rear fender skirts. Right below the windshield was an innovative readout of all instrumentation displayed in a single thin curved strip high on the dashboard instead of the typical analog dials. The EV1 could accelerate from 0-50mph in just 6.3 seconds and 0-60mph in 8 seconds thanks to the on-demand torque output of the electric motor. Electronically controlled, the top speed peaked at 80mph.
The driver didn't need a key to unlock the EV1, rather a Personal Identification Number was entered into a keypad on the driver's side door, much like that of Ford's Securicode system. To start the vehicle the driver would use a keypad once again to enter a Person Identification Number in the center console. The EV1 featured the modern amenities like modern cars of the day that included AC and heater with climate control, AM/FM car radio with a cassette player and CD player. The electric car had space for only two passengers.
General Motors supplied a home charger that was required for 'fast recharging'. The charger resembled a gasoline pump and measured 1.5 by 2 by 5 feet and had integrated heatsinks. The charger refueled the vehicle using induction, which was accomplished by inserting a Magne Charge paddle into the slot between the vehicles headlights. Though a few isolated incidents involving fires starting at the charge port were reported, the wireless charging technology meant that one could charge the car while it was raining since no direct connection was made. The automaker also offered a 120 V AC convenience charger to slow-charge the battery pack and could be used with any standard U.S. power socket. This convenience charger did not work for EV1's with the NiMH batter packs. Costing an additional $2,500, the installation took between one and two wheels to install the device.
The EV1 leased from $399 to $549 a month. Sparking a huge media event, the launch of the EV1 was accompanied by an $8 million promotional campaign that included impressive billboards, a website, primetime TV advertising and even an appearance at the Sylvester Stallone film Daylight premiere. Initial lessees included a notable list of celebrities, politicians and executives. 40 EV1 leases were signed at the release event, and GM estimated that 100 cars would be leased by the close of the year and deliveries beginning on December 5, 1996.
Concerns were launched to Joe Kennedy, vice president of marketing for GM marque Saturn in regards to the cost, the dated lead-acid battery technology and the car's limited range. Kennedy reminded the critics that technology started slow before improvements and costs can go down. It's difficult to make everyone happy, and the several anti-taxation groups were formed against the tax credits and exemptions that EV1 lessees received that they claimed constituted government-subsidized motoring for the wealthy. GM struck a deal with CARB to delay the first phase implementation of the ZEV program that had been scheduled to start in 1998, which caused mounting concerns since the EV1 had only been launched in a limited number.
Only 288 cars were initially introduced during its first year of release but a cult-like following had already begun according to Ken Stewart, brand manager for the EV1 program. The EV1 was welcomed with open arms by their owners and incorporated into everyday lifestyles. Tom Hanks praised the EV1 for its speedy efficiency on a late-night talk show.
EV1 fans felt that GM wasn't trying hard enough to market the electric car after its initial release as direct mail, print and TV ads in niche channels became the only advertising. GM remained officially committed to the electric car, but fans worried that low public interest would lead to the end of the program. In an attempt to keep the car alive, fan Marvin Rush, a cinematographer for Star Trek: Voyager TV series used $20,000 of his own money to produce and air four unofficial radio commercials promoting the EV1. At first GM was against Rush's marketing but eventually reimbursed the fan and announced they would make the spots official. In 1996 GM spent $10 million on EV1 advertising and promised to increase that amount by $5 million in 1997.
GM introduced a Gen II version of the EV1 in 1999. Completely modified the Gen II was a much quieter model, lighter model with a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery and lower production costs. First models were debuted with a 60 amp-hour (18.7 kilowatt-hour) Panasonic lead-acid battery pack, which was an update compared to the previous generation power source that used the same 312 V voltage. Eventually the Gen II models came with an Ovonics NiMH battery rated at 77 Ah (26.4 kWh) with 343 volts. Models with the lead-acid pack ranged an average of 80 to 100 miles while the NiMH cars could travel between 100 and 140 miles between charges.
Leasing was expanded for the second-generation EV1 models to the cities of Sacramento, San Diego and Atlanta. Monthly payments ranged from $349 to $574. General Motors produced and leased 457 Gen II EV1s to customers in the eight months following December 1999. Sources claimed that hundreds of drivers wanted do, but couldn't become EV1 lessees.
After determining that a faulty charge port cable in the Gen 1 models could catch on fire GM issued a recall for 450 models on March 2, 2000. The defect caused sixteen 'thermal incidents' and at least one fire, destroying a car leased by Ron Brauer and Ruth Bygness as it was charging. Thankfully this recall only affected first-generation EV1's.
Nearly 200 Gen I EV1s were modified with NiMH batteries over the following two years and re-issued to their original lessees on revised two-year leases that included a new limited-mileage clause. Design issues that resulted from the NiMH pack retrofit caused some delays. Gen I drivers were given the opportunity to either terminate their lease at no cost or transfer their lease to one of the remaining 150 second-generation EV1s, ahead of those on a waiting list.
1,117 EV1s were produced by 2002 though General Motors halted production in 1999 and shut down the EV1 assembly line. Ken Stewart of GM Advanced Technology Vehicles informed lessees on February 7, 2002 that GM would be removing the cars from the road. GM had earlier said that they would not be taking the cars from customers, but this proved untrue. Lessees feared that their working cars would be destroyed.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner officially canceled the EV1 program late in 2003. General Motors cited the cost of the EV1 program and the lack of buyers making the program unprofitable. The cost of maintaining a parts supply and service infrastructure for the 15-year minimum required by California mandate meant that current leases couldn't be renewed and all vehicles would have to be returned to GM. Fifty-Eight EV1 lessees sent both letters and deposit checks to GM hoping to extend the lease at no cost or risk to the automaker and agreed to be responsible for maintenance and repair costs, and would also allow GM to terminate the lease it expensive repairs were required.
General Motors famously refused these requests and returned $22,000 worth of checks from the lessees. When prompted with this same situation, Honda in contrast chose to extend its customers' leases.
GM began to collect the cars in November of 2003. 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' was a documentary that presented evidence that GM ignored public interest and scrapped the EV1. The film showed footage of GM employees on the EV1 team discussing the long waiting list of people interested in the EV1. A Los Angeles Times reporter attempted to lease an EV1 from GM in 2003 but was told that his chances were incredibly slim, but that he could join a waiting list with many others.
Critics suggested that GM was concerned about the emergence of electrical vehicle technology since the cars could cut into their profitable spare parts market since electric cars have less moving parts than combustion vehicles. They also claimed that when CARB mandated that electric cars make up a specific percentage of all automakers' sales, GM was worried that the EV1 might encourage unwanted regulation in other states. Alongside other automakers, GM sued CARB in federal court. After the hearings GM claimed that customers were just not that interested in the EV1 to meet the sales requirements necessary for CARB mandates.
GM and Toyota ran a study that found that customers would only pick an electric car over a gasoline car if it cost $28,000 less than a comparable gasoline car. Their study found that you would basically have to pay the average consumer to get them to drive an electric car. However their results were not typical compared to an independent study commissioned by the California Electric Transportation Coalition (CalETC) and led by the Green Car Institute and the Dohring Company automotive market research firm. This study found the yearly consumer EV market was 12-18% off the new light-duty vehicle market in California, amounting to yearly sales ranging from 151,200 to 226,800 electric vehicles. Their findings were nearly 10 times the number specified by CARB's mandate. The study did note that the car would require increased range and lower prices much closer to a regular gasoline sedan.
Toyota's electric RAV4-EV, which retailed at $30,000, was considered a success, though the car was sold at a net loss. The automakers suggested the hydrogen vehicle as a higher alternative to the gasoline car at the hearings, thanks to a recent federal push for hydrogen research. Many had an issue with this bait-and-switch on the automakers' part, in order to make CARB eliminate the EV mandate. They did not consider hydrogen as worthwhile of an alternative as it seemed to be.
Since many car companies weren't able to meet ZEV requirements CARB had already pushed back the deadlines several times. Amendments were proposed in 2001 that would grand automakers credit for producing advanced-technology, partial-zero emission cars, like hybrid cars in place of battery EVs. The industry used this rule relaxation to challenge the regulation as a whole.
Filing suit against CARB in the US District Court in the Eastern District of California, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler effectively contended that CARB's way of deciding whether a vehicle qualified as an Advanced Technology Partial ZEV (AT PZEV) used the vehicle's fuel economy as one of the standards, along with to reduce emissions, according to federal law, states are prohibited from regulating fuel economy in any way. A preliminary injunction was issued on June 11 against CARB that ruled the provision unconstitutional and preventing the operation of CARB's 2001 amendments. The mandate was modified with the zero-emission requirement reduced to at least 250 fuel cell or battery-powered cars by 2008.
No EV-1's were left on the road at the end of 2002. General Motors had scooped all of the leased EV-1's away from their lessees. Today one model is displayed in Lake Buena Vista, Florida at the Main Street in Motion exhibit at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Emotions are very mixed regarding the repossession of the EV1. In 2008 Time Magazine placed the EV1 on their list of 'The 50 Worst Cars of All Time'.
GM considered the EV1 as a doomed program when the battery technology breakthrough didn't happen when expected. They blamed the lack of availability of the NiMH-technology battery packs until late in the production cycle. Though the batteries improved the range, it wasn't as dramatic a change as hoped and the new batteries came with their own set of issues that included longer charging times and quicker heating time that required air conditioning to cool it down which wasted power. GM also blamed the elimination of the CARB zero-emissions mandate as a factor in the programs demise, though the finger was pointed at GM of lobbying against the mandate in a deliberately self-sabotaging matter.
Opinions changed later on in the decade at the world oil and financial crises hit closer to home. Former GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner bemoaned his decision in the ending of the EV1 electric-car program and not allocating the right resources into hybrids. The Chevy Volt has been greeted as the 'spiritual and technological successor to the EV1'. The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is the first all-electric passenger vehicle to be marketed by General Motors in the United States since the discontinuation of the EV1 in 1999.
A few EV1's donated to universities and engineering schools were reactivated and even driven on public roads before the institutions faced censure from General Motors for violating agreement terms of the donation. The agreement clearly states that the car could only be restored and showcased and not driven on public highways, titled or licensed.
One of the first generation EV1s was given to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. in 2004 and was displayed as part of the 'America on the Move' exhibit at the National Museum of American History until 2006. The car had not been redisplayed as of 2008, but remains part of the Smithsonian collection. Since the Smithsonian only takes intact examples, this is the only existing EV1 not disabled.
Though not a commercial success, the EV1 was a technological milestone that many customers enjoyed driving. Depending on the availability of state rebates, the lease payment for the EV1 ranged from $299 to $574. General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz estimated that the cost of the EV1 program just slightly less than $500 million before marketing and sales cost. The Clinton Administration's 1.25 billion Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program did help offset some of the costs. Several prototype variants of the EVI drivetrain were introduced at the 1998 Detroit Auto Show and included diesel/electric parallel hybrid, gas turbine/electric series hybrid, fuel cell/electric version and compressed natural gas low emission internal combustion engine variations. GM also took this time to reorganize their electronics divisions into Delco Propulsion Systems in an attempt to commercialize this technology into niche markets. Various non-affiliated companies bought their inverter and drivetrain systems from DPS for vehicle or fleet conversion purposes.
Hoping for a more 'marketable' EV, the new platform of the EV1 was a four-passenger variant with an increased 19' length. Focus groups had determined that the confining two-seater configuration might have been the cause of the EV1's demise. GM looked into making the EV1 a four-seater but found that the increased length and weight would reduce the car's already limited range to 40-50 miles and would place the performance alongside aftermarket gas vehicle conversions. Based on this information GM decided to produce the lighter, two-seat design.
The battery pack was upgraded to 44 NiMH cells for hybrid and electric vehicles and was arranged in 'I' formation down the centerline. The battery pack could completely recharge in only two hours using onboard 220 V induction charger. The trunk held addition power units that complemented the 3rd generation 137 hp AC induction electric motor under the hood. Modified for the Hybrid was the capability of all-electric ZEV propulsion for up to 40 miles.
The only non-electric vehicle in the EV1 lineup was the compressed natural gas (CNG) variant even though it used the same up-stretched platform. The CNG used an updated Suzuki 1.0 liter turbocharged 3-cylinder all-aluminum OHC engine. This small engine could pump out 72 bhp at 5500 rpm thanks to the high octane rating of the CNG, which allowed for greater compression ratio.
Two CNG tanks capable of maximum operating pressure of 3000 psi replaced the batteries. In just four minutes the tanks could be refueled from a single nozzle. During refueling and engine idling the in-tank solenoids shut off while a pressure relief device protected against excessive temperature and pressure. The car could accelerate 0-60mph in just 11 seconds thanks to a continuously variable transmission. The CNG had a maximum range of 350 to 400 miles and had 60 mpg fuel economy.
The EV1 series Hybrid prototype featured a gas turbine engine APU in the trunk. Provided by Williams International, a single-stage, single-shaft, recuperated gas turbine unit with a high-speed permanent-magnet AC generator weighted a whopping 220 pounds and measured 22 inches long and 20 inches in diameter and was running between 100,000 and 140,000 rpm. Able to run on a variety of high-octane alternative fuels, the turbine could run on octane-boosted gasoline to compressed natural gas. When the battery dropped under 40% the APU started automatically and delivered 54 bhp of electric power, which was sufficient to simultaneously keep the EV1's 80 mph top speed while returning the 44 NiMH cells to a 50% charge level. Capable of accelerating 0-60mph in 9 seconds, the hybrids fuel tank capacity was 6.5 US gallons and had a fuel economy of 60 mpg-US to 100 mpg – US in hybrid mode and allowed for more than 390 mile highway range.
Using a similar technology found in the 2005 Opel Astra Diesel Hybrid Concept, the EVI parallel hybrid variant introduced a de-stroked 1.3 L turbocharged DTI diesel engine that pumped out 75 hp. The engine was nestled in the trunk along with an additional 6.5 hp DC motor/generator. The two motors powered the rear wheels via an electronically controlled transaxle. The AC induction motor powered the front wheels, and when combined the three power units deliver 219 total power output which accelerated the hybrid to 0-60mph in 7 seconds. With an 80 mph fuel economy a single tank of diesel fuel could keep the hybrid running for an astonishing 550 miles.
The EVI fuel cell variant extended all-electric propulsion capabilities with a methanol-powered fuel cell system in the trunk of the vehicle. The entire system was composed of the fuel cell stack, a fuel processor and an expander/compressor. With a highway range around 300 miles, this variant had a 80 mpg fuel economy and could accelerate 0-60 mph in 9 seconds.