Editor's Note: If you missed Gary's previous articles on the history of GM's EV1, please start here. This post is the third of three posts where he answers reader questions that the EV1 series raised. Part I is here and Part II is here. Once again, questions may have been edited for space.
Honest answers to more probing questions.

You brush off the important facts that led many people to believe in a conspiracy theory. For example, you say, 'For whatever reason...only 500 EV1's were built.' What is the reason? As you mentioned, the EV1 wasn't marketed or meant to be the only car a family/individual would have, so 130-140 miles of range is PLENTY if the car is a COMMUTER car. -- cazancoz

The reason should be crystal clear. We built about 1,000 EV1s over two model years, and Saturn dealers in five CA and AZ cities managed to lease just 80 percent of them. Contrary to what some believe, you can't market/advertise your way to healthy sales of something most people simply don't want -- even with the higher-energy optional '99-model NiMH battery that could stretch the range to more than 100 miles. Like you, we thought that would be enough for a commuter car in a time of $1.40 gas. Like you, we were wrong.

Yeah, right! GM really wanted the EV1 to be a success. That's why lessees had to be able to comply with a long list of conditions BEFORE they were allowed to lease an EV1, like you had to have a garage and park your car in it every night. It was exceedingly difficult to lease an EV1. The process and delays put many people off. Rules that were applied to an EV1 were NEVER applied to any other GM car. -- Randy C.

The answer, and more, after the jump.

Without a garage, where would they put the 240V charger that was part of the deal? No one would be happy running an extension cord to 120V house current every night. We wanted no dissatisfied customers, no "buyer's remorse." We wanted to be sure lessees fully understood what they were getting into before committing to a three-year lease on a limited-range two-seat battery EV, so the screening process was intentionally tough. They had to understand the car's range limitation and be able to operate within it every day. They couldn't go get a can of volts to carry back if they ran out somewhere they didn't want to be.

What about the S10 EVs? Those are still out there. Why hasn't GM recalled and destroyed those? – Kevin M

They are? I don't know – I haven't worked there for eight years. But if some still are, they're probably in commercial fleets, not privately owned. Also, like Toyota's RAV4s, they're simple conversions, not complex purpose-built EVs. Anyone know for sure?

I've had high hopes for this series in terms of getting some insight into the story behind the EV1. However, I find little of value between discussions of least-relevant reader comments and refusal to elaborate on the most critical decisions: 1) planning of low production, then using it as indicator of poor sales performance and reason for cancellation; 2) closing the EV1 plant despite Gen II's improved performance with NiMH batteries; 3) not exploring EV1 PHEV beyond the prototype stage; 4) sale of stake in GM Ovonics Battery Systems to Texaco, effectively closing the door on use of NiMH tech for automotive applications. BTW, Tesla Motors has disproved Witzenburg's opinion expressed in the last paragraph. -- Serge

  1. Production of '97- and '99 EV1s turned out 25 percent higher than demand. We could have built plenty more had demand been there, but it was not;
  2. Gen II EV1 range with optional NiMH packs was nearly twice the PbA cars', but demand for them did not increase;
  3. Our stretched EV1 (4-seat) hybrid prototypes, both series and parallel, proved far too costly for production consideration, but the learnings from them were carried forward to the experimental PNGV Precept and eventually to today's advanced 2-Mode hybrids and the E-Flex/Volt;
  4. Ovonics, now part of Energy Conversion Devices, has been building NiMH batteries for GM and other customers ever since those early '99 EV1 packs. Who said that "door" was closed? And Tesla has proven only that there's a market for tiny numbers of very expensive high-performance EV sports cars for wealthy people? Wait'll they have to service those computer-battery packs.

It is interesting to note that EV1 was canceled AFTER high-energy Li-Ion batteries went into mass production and were starting to show up in consumer products. GM appeared to be in a hurry to get the program canceled and all the leased cars returned and crushed before someone pointed out the obvious: batteries that could give the EV1 over 240 miles per charge are now available! Oh, I suppose it is possible that the entire GM team of engineers and executives were, until recently, unaware of Li-ion battery technology. -- Chris M

If Li-ion batteries were in "mass" production in 1999, we never heard of them. The initially promising lithium-polymer chemistry that some were developing at that time - upon which long-term success of the entire $1B-plus GM EV program depended - never panned out, and I don't think Li-ion was available for computer/phone applications until several years later. In any case, there's an ENORMOUS difference between those small batteries and safe, practical, semi-affordable vehicle-size packs. And if anyone could have had them ready before now, why haven't they? GM and many others are counting on them being ready in the next year or two.

I think by now we've beaten the EV1 to death. Let's move on to more current and relevant topics such as plug-in hybrids, CAFE and the very survivability of our long-suffering U.S. automakers.

Share This Photo X