Monday, August 08, 2005

The Fate of The EV1

In comments, Anonymous writes:
"You know, the car companies just built a nice generation of electric cars. They were so nice that owners (lease holders?) protested when they were taken back and scrapped. Just a few months ago ..."
There were a number of small electric cars made by the major car makers, because of a law passed by California. GM made the EV1, and Toyota made the Rav4 EV, an SUV identical to it's RAV4 except that it didn't use gasoline. The EV1, like the Prius today, wasn't the only electric car or even necessarily the best one, but it somehow became the poster child of the electric car in California. As one of the people who worked for the EV1 writes:
Then something remarkable happened -- we ran out of cars. It didn't happen overnight, but it happened- it became clear that the market could evolve- which is when it also became clear that the auto industry wasn't about to -- and slowly but surely, everything changed in that program.
This was really astonishing at the time. Nobody imagined people would actually want an electric car - it could only get 70 miles before it had to be plugged in again, for God's sake!

Well, the mandate in California eventually was killed. Sadly, California's legislators bought the hype about hydrogen, and the carmakers argued that they could bring hydrogen cars to market sooner if they didn't have to meet that pesky mandate. It's really sad, because the EV1 and it's cousins had begun to get a rather vocal consituency. When the mandate expired, GM demanded that all the EV1's be returned - none were ever sold, only leased. People offered to pay GM the residual costs of the EV1, to no effect. GM refused to sell the EV1, no matter what. Contrast this with the approach Ford and Toyota took, where they sold their remaining electric cars for trivial sums, often a symbolic $1. GM refused to go this route, determined to purge the memory of a successful, beloved electric car from the memory of the public.

Nobody's quite sure why. Some suggest conspiracy - the old "engine that runs on water" hypothesis. I'm more partial to the business explanation - electric vehicles are inherently more reliable than internal combustion engines (no oil, gas, transmission, often no radiator, etc.) and this is an important part of any car company's bottom line - selling parts to your customers when there car breaks down. In any case, the last EV1s were crushed, despite a series of protests by their owners.

Anonymous also adds:
As far as I'm concerned, the electrics only "failed" in comparison to gas cars running cheap fuel. Raise the price of that fuel to $3-5/gal, and those electrics are going to look pretty good.
And now I'm starting to believe that I have multiple personality disorder. Not too much more than a month ago, I linked to a post on, arguing that charging electric cars with solar power was already competitve with gasoline. Hm. Apparently, my multiple personalities are forgetful.

I've been touting the advantages of battery-electric cars for about as long as I've had this blog. Still, even I was surprised when Mitsubishi announced it's plans to start producing electric cars. If this car actually makes it to market for 2010 (not a sure thing) it may make Mitsubishi the Company That Saved The World (or did more than it's share.) Whether it's because of Chinese and Indian demand, or because of Peak Oil, we'll be facing the reality of very, very expensive oil. A major car maker getting behind electric cars in a big way - and making a big profit - could be the signal the rest of the industry needs. Mitsubishi says it doesn't plan to sell it's EV in North America. I'll say this - it's the only car from a major manufacturer I've seen that I'd consider buying.

The EV1 is dead! Long live the Mitsubishi Colt EV!

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