At Witz' End: GM EV1 - The Real Story, Part IV

NOTE: If you missed them, please start by reading parts one, two and three in Gary's EV1 series.

What was learned, and is being applied today

"As has been stated in comments [to the] previous two posts by Mr. Witzenburg, there are several things which just don't add up, and make him look like a half-wit." – ABG reader Virgil.

Despite your gratuitous insult, Virgil, you raise a couple good points in your comment ... and one not so good. You wrote:

"First, aerodynamics. Anyone who's ever been in a canoe knows that a 17-ft canoe is faster than a 14-ft canoe. They're the same width, same frontal area, but the longer boat allows a more shallow angle of attack and tail-off, so is more hydrodynamic. Making a longer EV1 would improve aerodynamic performance, not decrease."

Really? Based on intuition, without data, I would tend to agree. But vehicle aerodynamic behavior on a solid surface is not always intuitive. Our body engineers said their aero analysis showed a meaningful increase in drag from a longer (and flatter) four-seat body vs. a shorter, teardrop-shaped two-passenger one. I'm no expert, but given that no other practical production vehicle has come close to EV1's astounding 0.19 Cd, I have no reason to disbelieve them.

Read more after the break.

"Second, adding two passengers does not increase weight that much. Especially since the back-seats (like most coupes) would be small and probably only suitable for children or small adults. So, let's say 200lbs extra - that's not much on a car that already weighs 3000lbs."

Really? Based on what data? The two extra seats are minor compared to the added body and structure, the required bigger brakes, beefier suspension, higher-output HVAC, etc. that make four-seaters substantially heavier than shorter two-seaters. Analysis showed roughly 25 percent lower range (vs. the PbA EV1's 50-70 miles) for a four-seat EV1 due to the combination of added weight and higher aero drag. Later tests on four-seat prototypes confirmed that.

"Third, don't try and tell me that 3000 lbs is a lightweight car! The 1st gen Miata weighed in at 2100 lbs, and that's including the acknowledged fact that convertibles weigh more due to all the gubbins associated with the roof mechanism. Even the current one is only 2400 lbs and that's including 18 years of increased mandated crash equipment. 3000 lbs isn't even trying."

Really? How much would that Miata weigh if it were toting a 1,175-lb. battery pack (and where would we put it)? The EV1's total weight was 2,970 lb., including the pack. Do the math.

Next time, I'll try to answer some of the reasonable and intelligent questions that ABG readers have left in my series about the EV1. I've got no time for ridiculous "GM is evil" or conspiracy theory comments, though.

What was learned
Most folks view GM's $1 billion-plus EV1 effort as a costly and unfortunate failure. Some technology and business-ignorant cynics even believe that it was intended to fail to demonstrate that it couldn't be done. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the rich body of learning from that effort is paying off big-time today, including in mainstream vehicles.

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"People don't realize how much was accomplished and how much we're getting out of it, both technically and commercially," insists former ATV Executive Director Bob Purcell, now a GM Powertrain vice president leading that organization's New-Business Development Group. "There was tremendous learning that is fundamental to what we're doing today with hybrid and fuel-cell systems. For example, we designed the Gen II controllers and power electronics for battery EV and hybrid applications and Gen III for all three classes of electric vehicles -- battery, hybrid and fuel cell."

In fact, Purcell says, the first Allison hybrid bus, the forerunner of GM's advanced 2-mode hybrid system, began with EV1 components. "We're licensing hybrid systems and technology to other automakers that desperately need them. They come to us because they recognize us as a leader, and the dollars we generate on these deals are significant."

...and is being applied today
Andrew Farah, who was ATV group manager for propulsion software and controls (and later battery and charging systems), is now Vehicle Chief Engineer on the Chevy Volt program. He confirms that a lot of talented technical people who worked on EV1 are working on GM's plug-in EVs, hybrids and other programs today. "They have made it much easier to crank up the programs for 2-Mode hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles," he says.

Jon Bereisa, ATV propulsion chief engineer in the EV1 days, is now director of advanced engineering for fuel cell propulsion systems and a member of GM's Volt/E-Flex leadership team. He adds that not just technical but also customer learnings are being applied to Volt and other future electrics: "Two big things came out after we launched the car and started talking to people," he says. "We had to solve range anxiety - the 'what if' in the backs of peoples' minds - and we had to provide exciting driving.

"On EV1, we had software limitations on acceleration and top speed to protect range, because all the energy we had on board was in the battery. Basically, the Volt is all about taking the knowledge that we got on EV1 and making sure to remove those impediments - hence the range extender, more [four-seat] utility and dramatic, contemporary styling. And it will be absolutely a blast to drive."

Bottom line
"I don't know of anything that will compete with a tank of gas from an energy density standpoint," Purcell sums up. "That is the physics. Did a battery materialize in that time frame that would overcome range anxiety for most people at an affordable cost? No. But did we get [the learnings] out of it that we wanted? The answer is yes."

It is also worth noting that, while no battery-only EV has found marketplace success since the early 1900s, GM's EV1 has been the only purpose-built attempt to reinvent the battery electric automobile and fully optimize its efficiency. All other mainsteam automaker efforts have been low-efficiency conversions of conventional cars.
In my opinion, if road-going battery-only EVs will ever succeed in sustainable numbers, they will need safe, reliable and affordable on-board energy at least close to equivalent to a tank of gas. No amount of wishful thinking or well-intentioned legislation will alter that reality.

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