• Jun 27th 2008 at 2:29PM
  • 46
A decade ago General Motors put one of the coolest cars of all time on the road, the EV1. While there were a number of hard-core EV enthusiasts who became passionately committed to the car, it never caught on with the masses. But that was then and this is now. GM should seriously consider putting the EV1 back into production.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers. Follow the jump to continue reading this week's editorial.

First off, it would be so simple. The car is already designed, engineered and developed. Why not milk more money out of your intellectual property? All they would have to do is dust off the CAD data. I doubt the tooling is lying around, so it would have to be duplicated. But GM could bring the EV1 back into production far faster than a typical new program would take.

And this time around demand would be brisk. When the EV1 came out gasoline was selling for a little over $1 dollar a gallon in the U.S. and people had absolutely no interest in a two-seater that could barely travel 70 miles per charge. Today, with gas at $4 a gallon, there's a totally different mindset out there. People are desperate to slash their commuting costs. The EV1 would draw in a lot more people today than it did a decade ago.

I was wowed by the EV1 when it came out. It was a terrific little car, fast off the line, with crisp handling and a driving experience unlike anything else on the road. The early ones had an aggressive regenerative braking program that slowed the car noticeably when you backed off the accelerator. You could dive into turns, back off, and not have to touch the brakes. And man was that car quiet! In fact, at low speeds you could even hear the hushed ssssshhhhh of the rear brake pads pressing against the drums as you came to a stop.

One of my favorite features was a keypad on the center console that allowed you to program the temperature inside the car. You could choose the time of day for the heater or ac to come on. For example, if you had to drive off on a cold winter morning, you could set it to be toasty warm five minutes before you left the house. On a hot summer day you could program the air conditioning to come on before you had to go anywhere. It was as easy as setting an alarm clock. And it ensured the batteries would always be "topped off" instead of taking a big hit from the HVAC.

I should add that all my driving in the EV1 was done with the first generation which only had simple lead-acid batteries. Later versions had nickel-metal hydride batteries. The point is, I was knocked out by the car even with the lowest tech batteries available.

Remember, the prototype for the EV1, called the GM Impact, was done by the late Paul McCready and his elite team of crack engineers at Aerovironment. McCready was one of the most creative inventors this country has ever produced and it would be great to see his legacy live on by bringing the EV1 back.

GM offered the EV1 through Saturn dealers in Southern California. Imagine what a new EV1 could do for Saturn right now. People would flock to the showrooms, something that Saturn desperately needs because even with one of the most handsome line-ups of vehicles in the business, sales are tepid.

Of course, if it were ever to consider reviving the EV1, GM should follow through on its original plan to sell the car worldwide this time around. That would give it the economies of scale it needs to finally turn a profit on it.

Reviving the EV1 would be front page news around the world. It would be the perfect complement to the Volt, and put GM's "green cred" right up there with Toyota and Honda. Just as importantly, GM could finally shake that "Who Killed The Electric Car?" monkey off its back.


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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      The EV1 was great when it came out, but we may have evolved in technology since then. Probably the automotive industry isn't ready to shelf the combustion engine, so they create hybrid that keep the industry going. I don't think hybrids are really an answer. They help, yeah, but are they the solution? Maybe something a little more like www.gravitycontrol.org's project unity?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm thinking safety standards would kill a large chunk of that old design.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Never caught on with the masses"

      Huh? When was it offered to the masses? Last time I checked it was only offered as a leased vehicle, to a small portion of people in california. It was not 'offered to the masses' at all, nor was it even ever 'sold'. GM refused to allow people to keep leasing them, and destroyed all of them.

      If they were still around, think of what crazy mods people would have done with newer battery technology.
        • 7 Years Ago
        $80,000? You're saying that's how much they were worth? Seems like they were worth a lot less since GM decided to crush all of them instead of letting people continue to lease/buy them.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I would hate to be the new latest supercar owner who gets smoked by a modded EV1! Would be a damn cool sight to see though, like Top Gear G-Wiz beating Mustang GT500
        • 7 Years Ago
        Would you have bought one for $80,000?
      • 7 Years Ago
      "A decade ago General Motors put one of the coolest cars of all time on the road, the EV1."

      Wow! Never has so much FAIL existed in one sentence.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It's too bad most people back then did not think the car was cool enough to pay the high price of the car. Of course you would have liked for GM to sell it for a big lost. Let's say about $20,000 so GM would have lost only $60,000 per car.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Stop using 4chan memes.
      Christian Walters
      • 7 Years Ago
      No, consumer demand for this thing was high, it was GM's blind idiocy, as well as their marriage to big oil that killed the electric car...
        • 7 Years Ago
        @Christian Walters
        You can dream all you want but consumer demand was not there. That's why GM didn't build it to the general public. Do think GM would not have built it if could have made money on it? Can you understand that this car price was way way too high? Also, mass production would not have lowered the price enough. Hey, why is Honda not picked on. They discontinued the Insight.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The problem with EV1 was the cost and weight of the battery pack. This issue is in full effect even today. The cost of EV1's battery pack was at least $40,000. The cost would about the same today.

      There is no way in the world, even if the cost of the gasoline would triple over the current price, that this car would pay for it's battery pack in its entire lifetime, compared to the gasoline consumed by a hybrid. Forget about it, (fully) electrical cars, like EV1, are not cost effective with the current battery technology.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I am sorry about the triple comment above, the page was not updated for a few minutes, I thought the comment was not uploaded. I wish I could delete those -- this board has little and yet so awkward functionality.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What an absolute crock of crap!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Excellent article and right on. Even if they transplanted the guts from the Volt - they could get the EV1 up and out and people would buy them, Saturn would be in heaven. My bet, based on what Bob Lutz said, is that GM will bring out an all electric version of the Volt to meet California's zero emission vehicle requirement - but I'd much rather buy an EV1, so much better and functional looking.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I watched "who killed the electric car," and I have my own theory. The thing is freaking fugly, one of the worst looking cars ever produced. That is what killed it, not to mention that it was not marketed to the masses, I had never heard of it before I watched the movie. I still can't get over how hideous that thing is.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The EV1 was a technological marvel that could have revolutionized private transportation, and you want to pooh-pooh the styling. Way to keep your priorities straight.
      • 7 Years Ago
      For fuel economy and more room of the 'old designs' is the Saturn SL (mine got 38-45mpg). Or the old VW beetles... VW discontinued them in the late 60's but they were (and maybe still are) produced in Latin America through the 1990s or so (couldn't retrofit a lot of Brazilian parts on German built bugs though).

      The problem with resurrecting the old designs is they don't really exist. There might be some old drawings or files stored somewhere but finding them is a problem. Then tooling for high volume production won't exist, or the suppliers that made those old parts don't often exist. So parts need to be made with new tooling and new suppliers. The assembly plants that produced these vehicles 'no longer exist' - either closed or producing something entirely different (and thus need to be retooled).

      When looking at high production volumes, even expensive tooling begins to get cheap on a per part basis. A $100,000 injection molding tool for one "cup-holder" part would be $0.08 cost in each part if run for five years at a typical high volume assembly plant of 250,000 units per year.

      So there is no incentive in the front end of such a program to do anything but completely new. It's also easier to market "new" than "we're selling you ten year old technology" or for the buyer to tell his neighbor "look at the brand new geometro I just bought for three times it's price in the late 1980s!" since real inflation has set in to the currency).

      Low volumes are where tooling gets difficult - but finding the tooling or re-making the tooling gets really hard. Remember there are over 25,000 parts in the typical sedan. That's 25,000 often unique tools, suppliers, engineers, and so on. Not easy.

      I think the EV1 was built at the "Flint Craft Center" (might have been the same factory where the first Oldsmobiles were built by Ransom before GM itself existed) due to the low volumes and may not exist anymore. I suspect that most of the tools used in its construction were low volume "soft tools" - that are less expensive but will also have less than a lifespan of 10,000 units before needing to be replaced (and so were probably fully used up). Talk to someone in the service parts organization at GM - my experience is that the service parts production stream gets really fragmented after a model is replaced.

      Hopefully, GM is using the common parts bins for all the non-electric/hybrid portions of the Volt that they can. Maybe even the charging motor is common with something they or others are already building - even a lawn tractor engine or motorcycle engine sourced outside of GM (I remember some college dyno tests of fuel injection system improvements on a motorcycle engine for an SAE "go-cart" competition that were very impressive http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_SAE). The more common parts they can reuse, the lower the overall tooling and parts costs will be for the Volt. Then the costs can be better allocated to the powertrain requirements that need it.

      Oh, and the battery pack (not the vehicle like EV1) needs to be leased. That way the consumers are "future protected" against concerns of replacement costs and the technology improvement ownership is still an issue for GM personnel to figure out.

      Discretionary Thoughts
      • 7 Years Ago
      They are bringing it back, except this time it's called the Chevrolet Volt and it's due out in 2010
        • 7 Years Ago
        Your right! I'm sure the R&D used on the EV-1 is being applied on the Chevy Volt.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I drove this car, ahead of it's time. If gas was still $2 a gallon the Prius would be nothing but a afterthought in the market. Some would say that Toyota/Honda/Nissan had great foresight, some would say luck was involved. If it was all foresight then the Tundra/Ridgeline/Titan would not exist in today's market.

        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah right roar... That's why Honda can pull the Ridgeline & build a Civic in the same plant.

        They do have "vision" & prove it by the fact that they continued to offer high mileage Civic model & the performance oriented VTEC motor in the same car.

        Gas isn't $2 & Honda is selling every Fit & Civic they can ship to their dealerships. Toyota's Yaris & Prius models are moving as well. The big 3 are giving huge rebates on trucks & SUV's... That is not vision.
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