At Witz' End: GM EV1 - The Real Story, Q&A II
Honest answers to more of your probing questions.
Please mention the RAV4 EV, acknowledge its existence! What did Toyota do that was so much better than the miserable EV1 failure when designing their RAV4 EV on an existing drivetrain? Are the ones still being driven every day a giant fluke? Let's get some serious discussion going instead of earning those GM dollars. I understand they're paying for ad-space and subsidizing your "professional opinion." The only thing Toyota did differently was not crush all their electric cars, 'cause they knew they weren't bad cars. Now those very cars are disputing every "fact" you try to fool readers with as an "unbiased" journalist. – Matt Lenart
Let's have an agreement, Matt: I won't insult your intelligence, you don't question my integrity. I have been telling the true EV1 story as I lived and observed it. Is Toyota paying you?
Regarding those RAV4 EVs, here are the facts straight from Toyota Safety and Quality Communications Manager Brian Lyons: They built and marketed 1,485 of them between 1998 and 2003 -- 80 percent leased to commercial fleets and 20 percent (about 300) sold, all in California. All the early 1998 and '99 models have been "retired," while 95 percent of the 811 still in service are '02 and '03 models with longer-range NiMH packs. Of those, 434 are in fleet operations (utilities, etc...), 104 are in public-service, philanthropic and TMS (Toyota Motor Sales) operations and just 273 are privately owned.
Lyons says their range when new was 80-100 miles, and "many" - depending on usage, environment, and charge/discharge cycles - still achieve 95 percent of their initial performance with their original battery packs. Their drive motor is a 50kW (67 hp) unit good for 140 lb-ft of torque, and their packs are 24 sealed NiMH batteries totaling 288 volts. Service support is "the same as for all Toyota vehicles, with specialists available for difficult cases." The retired vehicles "had all the viable/critical/unique parts removed and are warehoused by [an unnamed] company contracted by Toyota," which also stores and maintains the recovered battery packs.
This post continues after the jump.
Why was the program discontinued? "[It] demonstrated that Toyota was very interested in determining the market potential of EVs," Lyons says. "A comprehensive marketing program with strong dealer support and attractive pricing provided the best opportunity for success of this candidate transportation technology. Unfortunately, consumer interest and sales fell well below expectations, although we learned a great deal and applied many of the lessons learned into our HEV programs. As a result of this real-world business venture, and the expanding acceptance of hybrid vehicles, Toyota decided to retreat from the Electric Vehicle market for the time being, in favor of other more consumer acceptable products."
Sound familiar? The primary difference is that Toyota chose to go a much cheaper route with small numbers of simple conversion vehicles, while GM invested the effort and capital to design/develop a purpose-built, ultra-efficient EV to showcase the technology and squeeze the most possible range out of whatever batter technology would be available. Both ultimately failed for the same reason -- low customer acceptance. Toyota chose to risk leaving most of its later-model RAV4 EVs in service, while GM chose to "retire" its highly complex EV1s.
Why do you have a picture of yourself on all your posts? -- Jude Brown
I don't put it there, ABG does. Whose picture would you prefer? [Ed. note: it's true, we decided to run Gary's picture with each post, the same way that Autoblog does with the editorials of John McElroy]
Suing U.S. automakers has been a national sport for decades. That's why a significant portion (at least $1,000 per car) of their business-cost disadvantage vs. off-shore competitors is litigation expense - the cost of defending, and sometimes paying, lawsuits. What do you think would happen when the first backyard mechanic got zapped, or when the first serious accident was blamed on controller failure? Toyota had a much simpler vehicle and far less lawsuit risk. Ever try to sue a Japan-based company?
As hard as it was, GM did it. The only thing missing was mass production, and the improvement in batteries. But the car worked. Had it been built to be sold nationwide, and not trashed in the car magazine industry, it could have been a great success. -- Mike!!ekiM
I read every EV1 magazine (and newspaper) review I could find and can't recall many negative ones. Virtually every writer who experienced the car loved it...though not its very limited range. And much of what little range it had went away in cold temperatures due to sluggish batteries, higher tire rolling resistance, cold seals and lubricants and higher aerodynamic drag. Add the energy lost to running the heater, lights and windshield wipers and slogging through slush or snow, and the PbA EV1's 50-70-mile warm-weather range would be half that, or less, in winter conditions. That is one major reason why, lacking higher-energy batteries, EV1 was leased only in California and Arizona. Another was partnerships with cooperative electric utilities.
Because so many good (and less good) questions have been asked, I'll devote one more installment to answering them. Then, on to more current and relevant topics such as plug-in hybrids, CAFE regulations and the very survivability of our long-suffering U.S. automakers.
Note: Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 20 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, he has been a regular contributor to a wide variety of national magazines including Playboy, The Robb Report, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently a Contributing Editor or Contributing Writer for AutoMedia.com, Kelley Blue Book, Automobilemag.com and TheCarConnection.com, Design Editor for Automotive Traveler and a North American Car and Truck of the Year Juror.
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