• Sep 5th 2008 at 4:17PM
  • 36
NOTE: If you missed them, you can read parts one and two.

High tech development, market launch and retreat


Because its 1,175-pound pack of 27 advanced lead-acid (PbA) batteries - 26 propulsion, one for accessories - held a mere half-gallon of gasoline-equivalent energy, the production EV1 would have to be an incredibly efficient teardrop-shaped two-seater to achieve even barely acceptable range. Stretching it to accommodate four passengers would have reduced its already very modest range some 25 percent due to added weight and aero drag.

"The fundamental variables are mass, aerodynamics, rolling resistance, accessory loads and driveline efficiency," says Bob Purcell, who was our Advanced Technology Vehicles (ATV) Div. Executive Director. "So the exercise was to ensure that we would meet all customer requirements using the least possible energy in each of those areas."

Continue reading after the jump.

Breakthrough technologies
That effort brought breakthrough technologies such as the first heat pump automotive heater/air conditioner, electro-hydraulic power steering and electro-hydraulic, power-blended regenerative braking. "In every way, that car was the ultimate statement of energy efficiency," Purcell asserts, "and many of the benchmarks it established still stand today."

Our tireless ATV engineering team had to rethink and, in many cases, redesign virtually every element of the modern automobile. One major issue was noise. Once you've "drained the swamp" of the entire spectrum of internal combustion propulsion system sounds, a lot of other noises that you never knew were there rise up out of the dramatically lowered level. Every motor, pump and mechanical system had to be significantly hushed, and while the turbine-like whine of the "traction" (drive) motor might be heard as a positive by some, the louder, harsher noise of the step-down gearset definitely would not. It was a major challenge.

Even with standard traction control, cruise control, AM/FM/Cassette/CD premium audio, power anti-lock brakes, tire inflation monitoring (for weight and packaging reasons, EV1 was the first production GM vehicle with no spare tire), power windows, mirrors and steering and dual airbags, EV1's total weight was just 2,970 lb. Its aluminum structure - 162 pieces bonded together with aerospace adhesive, spot welds and rivets - weighed less than 10 percent of that. The exterior body panels were dent-resistant, corrosion-proof SMC and RRIM composites. With a near-perfect aero shape perfected by many hours of wind-tunnel tuning, its drag coefficient was an astounding 0.19, unmatched by any volume vehicle before or since.

Powered by a 137-hp 3-phase AC induction motor through a dual-reduction gearset with an overall ratio of 10.946:1, it was capable of strong, smooth performance (like the Impact, about eight seconds 0-60) and respectable handling on its narrow, 50-psi, low-rolling resistance tires, though its top speed was electronically limited to 80 mph. Gently driven in warm ambient temperatures, it could squeeze out 50-70 miles in city driving, somewhat more on the highway. It could be recharged in 3-4 hours using GM's innovative, all-weather "inductive" charging on its standard 220-volt charger or 12-16 hours on its 110-volt compact convenience charger.

Market acceptance?
Everyone at GM ATV understood that demand for an expensive two-seater with very limited range would not be strong. But we knew from our 1993-94 PrEView Drive, which put EV1 prototypes into daily use with regular folks for three months at a time that people loved the cars and learned to live with their limitations. Market research said that most peoples' daily commutes were well within EV1's range, and it would be most households' second, third or even fourth vehicle. Owners would simply choose a different ride for longer drives. And we knew that GM's customer-friendly Saturn dealers would take excellent care of EV1 owners.

We also knew that long-term success would depend absolutely on advancing battery technology. Our '99 EV1's much more expensive available nickel-metal hydride NiMH batteries could hold nearly twice the PbA pack's energy, stretching its range to a still-inadequate 130-140 miles. But the lithium-polymer chemistries being developed by 3M Corp. and others - which promised gasoline-competitive size, weight, cost and range - never panned out.

For several reasons – limited production volume due to component (especially battery), availability, unacceptable cold-weather range and very limited public-charging opportunities offered by cooperative electric utilities – EV1s were marketed at first only in Los Angeles, CA and Phoenix and Tucson, AZ. Two more cities, San Francisco and Sacramento, CA soon followed, but the optional '99-model NiMH batteries were not offered in Arizona because, at that early stage of their development, they performed very poorly in hot weather.

Dismal disappointment
Critics contend that GM didn't try hard enough to publicize EV1s. I thought the ads I saw were pretty good, and I know our PR team worked very hard with media to get the word out and provide test vehicles to auto writers in those areas, because I was heavily involved with that effort. ATV/Saturn's EV1 ad budget may have been limited after the initial launch (lots of other GM products also needed major promotion at the time), but I can't imagine that any potential customers were unaware that EV1s were available at Saturn dealers in those five markets.

Still, the EV1 was a fairly high-priced, low-range two-seater. How many two-passenger non-sports cars have succeeded in America in our lifetimes? Zero. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, only 500 '97 EV1s were built and 400 leased. That dismal performance was followed by about the same numbers of '99 Gen II cars (there were no '98s), some with optional NiMH batteries. At that point, GM gave up and pulled the (ahem) plug. Until a practical, affordable gas-competitive battery technology could be developed, there would be no GM EV2 or EV3.

Not surprisingly, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chrysler and every other automaker with volume EV aspirations also gave up for the same reason, and California was eventually persuaded to give up its ill-considered sales mandate of technology that was nowhere near market ready.

Those aware of serious liability risks with aging 300-plus-volt batteries, and state laws requiring parts and service support for decades after vehicles are sold, should understand why GM chose to lease, not sell, these early technology EVs. And why they had to be recalled and destroyed when their leases were up. As we well know, that necessity made those 800 or so lessees - people who genuinely loved their EV1s and did not want to give them up - extremely unhappy.

But don't let anyone try to tell you that GM wanted that program to fail. You don't table it, revive it, then do everything we did - and invest at least a billion precious development dollars - on a product you don't want to succeed. From CEO Jack Smith down to those of us who worked our proverbial tails off to make it work, everyone at GM desperately wanted it to.

Next time: Lessons learned as applied to hybrid development.





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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 36 Comments
      • 8 Months Ago
      You guys are so so dumb.
      Simple facts:
      GM is here to make a profit.
      The GM EV1 had over 440 new patents
      Chevron buys 1 NiMH battery patent from GM for $300million
      How many EV1's do you have to sell to make $300million?
      It is simply better business to sell patents and technolgy to the oil company than to sell cars.
      For goodness sake look at the size of the warren tech centre and see how few designs from there ever reach sales production. By the way the first concept EV1 's were made at Warren.

      GM is in the business of designing new technolgy and selling it to the highest bidder.

      GM had 2 offers for the last 75 cars held before crushing.
      GM was offerred $2.7million for the EV1s by the owners.
      GM was offered $3.45 million by a Portland Oregon group.
      GM would not meet or negotiate with either group.
      Gm refused both offers.
      Why?
      Because the EV1's were already sold to a higher offer of course!!! That is why they had to be recovered from the lesees in the first place!
      Wake up.
      If the battery patent sold for $300 million how much did the physical cars sell for?
      GM was paid $? billion to recover and destroy all the lease cars.

      Remember GM is stil part of the group legal action funded by big oil to remove clean air mandates.
      Also remember that GM made and sold its first fleet of Electric vehicles in 1912. YES 1912 !!!!
      GM has always made electric vehicles - mostly for utility companies or fleet owners in lots of 50 or greater.
      Except for NASA. We only made NASA 6 lunar electric cars.
      And 3 GM lunar electric cars are still on the moon!
      Probably would run too if they had been rechargable batteries.
      They weren't.

      That is why GM owns Hughes Electric
      Hughes Electric supplied GM with 3 phase AC motors and controllers for GM manufactured fleet electric veicles in the 1980's. Yes - fully electric S-10's in 1983 13 years before the EV1. 7 years before the Impact. 4 years before the sunraycer.

      Its a business you guys !!
      GM made best electric car
      The EV1
      Then they sold it for the most profit.
      To Chevron
      Now they cant make them anymore
      Becuase Chevron own the patents
      and you can be very sure Chevron own more than just the 1 battery patent. Remember there were over 440 patents.

      Oh and the $1billion figure. That was part of the government subsidies GM received. GM didn't actually spend their own money to devolp the EV1.

      EVERYBODY in MICHIGAN worked dammed hard on the EV1 and loved it like it was their own! A lot left GM when it was discontinued. Like Rick said: Shutting down the EV1 program was a mistake. Not a business mistake. But a terrible morale, marketing and image mistake. The market is probably at best 10,000 units a year.

      Electric cars are not the threat Chevron thinks they are. Only a small % of people will want them. And if we dont burn all the oil now, then oil will be worth lots more in the future anyway for making plastics.
      • 8 Months Ago
      "gas equivalent" batteries weren't available then, but they are now, as Tesla Motors has proven. Using the same type of batteries that Tesla used, a revised EV1 could achieve over 300 mile range - and shaved 200 pounds off the weight! Of course, for local commuting use with recharging every night, 300 miles is overkill.

      Sorry, but I just don't buy the excuse given for crushing the EV1. No law required the crushing of the EV1. The law does requires that any warranties be honored, which means having sufficient parts to do warranty repairs, but does not require anything post-warranty. GM could have sold the EV1 with a very limited warranty, or even sold them on an "as-is" basis with no warranty (not unheard of for used cars after lease expiration) and would have little or no "service support" requirements at all
      • 8 Months Ago
      in 1942 the russians could run a submarine 8 knots for week on end using battery power
      • 8 Months Ago
      There was also absolutely no explanation as to why they were destroyed. Lots of car programs have failed, including GMs, but they aren't usually all destroyed the second the plug is pulled. It only makes sense to sell them and regain as much money as possible.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Second paragraph from the bottom. Whether or not you believe that explanation is up to you, but he did say it.

      • 8 Months Ago
      Hmm... if I were GM I would've done more what Toyota did with their RAV 4 EV - they should have sold about 200 of those EV1s to lessees (determined by lottery or an auction). Then they could've used the remaining 600 EV1s as parts cars. Financially, this may not have made much sense, but it sure would've helped them in the PR department. Furthermore, they would've had a much better idea of the longevity of the cars as these cars would now be about 10 years old. Still, I'm sure they did learn a lot from the EV1, which will be incorporated into the Volt.
      • 8 Months Ago
      @why not the LS2LS7?
      Although you don't recognize this, there's quite a difference in large format batteries and smaller consumer batteries. This is especially true of nimh where they never used the smaller consumer batteries to make a large battery like Tesla did. So board production of smaller nimh batteries do not play a direct role in lowering the cost of large format batteries. You have to actually manufacture the large format batteries in huge numbers before seeing a price reduction from scale. If you look at the hybrid batteries; their costs are coming down with scale. The automakers attribute the price cuts to "improved technology and lower production costs". This should be impossible if your original claim was true.
      http://www.newsweek.com/id/138808/page/2
      Similarly, I expect costs of large format lithium batteries to come down.

      In terms of the marketing, assuming this account is true, I can see one reason why it wasn't successful. The advertising was only for the markets it was sold in. This is unlike today where automakers put out ads so the whole country can see it, even if the car is not avaliable everywhere (see Honda's Clarity).

      Another thing is just the way it was handled; seems ALL the other automakers were able to reach a compromise with their original leasees: Honda had the Insight to replace their EV+, Toyota sold some of their RAV-4 EVs, Ford let some people buy Ranger EVs at end of lease for $1 and decided to ship their excess Thinks back to Norway, Nissan let fleet users keep their Altra, while GM made it as bitter as possible by crushing their EV-1s under leasee protests with no compromise at all. And GM asks why they were singled out?

      About the Altra though, it was the first li-ion EV, seems some are still running strong today; it will be interesting to do a followup story on the Nissan Altra and see how much range they can still get (and so judge battery degradation), given it's been 10 years since they were produced.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I also wanted to add another, that Chrysler's GEM program basically was continued. And for Honda, in addition to having the Insight, they also had their FCX program, and EV Pluses in good condition were converted over to hydrogen. So again all the other automakers were able to reach compromises to ease public outrage except for GM.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I agree that 130-140 miles was more than adequate. The author himself, admits that the majority of those who leased the car LOVED THE CAR, and LEARNED TO LIVE WITH ITS LIMITATIONS.
      @why not the LS2LS7?: Matt is talking about the Volt's electric only range, which is supposed to be around 40 miles.
      • 8 Months Ago
      You have no credibility yourself. Just a line of babbly. The Volt can go a lot farther than 40 miles.
      • 8 Months Ago
      "Those aware of serious liability risks with aging 300-plus-volt batteries, and state laws requiring parts and service support for decades after vehicles are sold, should understand why GM chose to lease, not sell, these early technology EVs. And why they had to be recalled and destroyed when their leases were up."

      Need some serious factual reporting and analysis on these two sentences. Some much contradictory blather has been spewed over this gap of information that we really have a public policy need to know more facts. Leaving it for conjecture just plays into the obviously delusional conspiracy theories by making it feel like someone is hiding something.

      Can we turn up some GM internal memos? Can we find the state laws mandating parts pipeline? Can we estimate the costs of compliance? It is as least possible that this is a rational business decision (crushing end of lease EVs), but everyone seems more interested in how Elvis and the large-eyed ETs are conspiring with big evil GM/Toyota/whomever to deny treehuggers everywhere the cheap reliable EVs that are apparantly their birthright.

      For that matter, did the engineers who sweated liquid lithium to make these EVs work just roll over when the green-eyeshade types dictated the lease and crush plan? There HAD to have been some drama there. Were the engineers signed to a burn before reading confidentiality agreement? What could GM be hiding that could be worse than what the conspiracy theories are doing to their rep? Did the number crunchers at GM fail to put a dollar value on reputation hits from the disappointed nut and berry crowd? Did they, in effect, perform a flawed analysis and render a bad decision? Or would the costs to support to committed EV owners have numerically overwhelmed the costs to reputation of boxing their technology next to Indiana Jones' Ark?

      The choice is a) GM is an evil monster, or b) somebody thought they were making a rational decision. Until we thoroughly understand b), even if the pick was hugely flawed, a) remains easy, for some anyway, to swallow.

      Come on GM, cough up some info. It is in your best interest.
      • 8 Months Ago
      NiMHs were in broad production at the time, being sold in cell phones since 1992. It is unclear that even selling 2,000 cars a year with NiMHs would have made a dent in the price of the batteries.

      Cobasys makes batteries currently. Only in your conspiracy theories has it done nothing with the patents.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Thanks. Much more information content than Part II. Seems feasible that EV1's only needed to be sold in CA to meet the ZEV compliance so why push it into AZ if it's too hot for the NiMH? I agree that the ads I saw were good and on target. Seems that most of these cost issue were quite predictable. What production-cost model was GM working toward when they started this program?
      @meme's question deserves an answer. I kind want to know the reverse... they spent all this $$ on new technology (and some was quite important for present hybrids&EVs) but didn't seem to flow it into the larger market. The efficiencies of light weight and a 0.19 Cd could certainly have helped the gas-burning segment of GM's line get better than the paltry mileage they do now. Seems like there must be more to the story.
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