JDH: Opinion Piece on the GM EV1 after the anouncement of the Chevy Volt

jdh2550_1's picture

This article ran in the Ann Arbor News in January '07. I wrote it after reading an editorial by the business writer that dismissed the EV1 as impractical and praised the Volt as exciting...

I share Mr. Haglund's excitement over the new Chevy Volt - it's a great way for GM to play catch up after being ahead 10 years ago. I wish them luck and I'd like to buy one. I would have preferred to buy an EV1 - but alas I won't have that chance.

However, I take issue that your article perpetuates the perceived wisdom (given to us by those who wish to protect a market position) that a purely electric vehicle isn't practical today. It is, and the EV1 by GM was an extremely competent first-generation attempt. The three most pertinent questions for electric vehicles can be summed up as "how far", "how fast" and "how much"? The 10-year-old EV1 did a fine job at most all of those. Furthermore, who today doesn't see 10 years as a venerable antique when it comes to high tech? Just imagine where the 3rd, 4th or 5th generation EV1s might be if GM had committed its finest engineers and best business people to the challenge?

Why do I feel that the EV1 was such a worthwhile and exciting first step? Let's consider those three questions:
1) How far? The later EV1s with batteries invented and manufactured by Ovonics (a company based here in Michigan) gave a range of 100+ miles. Bear in mind that the Department of Transportation Bureau of Statistics states that Americans drive an average of only 29 miles per day.
2) How fast? In terms of acceleration the EV1 was "sports car fast". In terms of cruising speed it could hold it's own on the interstate and cruise comfortably in the 70mph - 80mph range that most seem to drive at today.
3) How much? According to wikipedia the lease price was $33,995 to $43,995. That's certainly expensive but it's not as stratospheric as people are lead to believe and many of us drive far more expensive vehicles. The "fuel costs" (i.e. the cost to charge it) have been cited as equivalent to 60 cents per gallon. The total cost of ownership is reduced further because servicing costs are a lot lower (not only no gas in the tank but no oil changes, or oil filters, or sparkplugs, fewer brake jobs, no clutch or automatic tranmission overhaul, etc.)

So from my perspective (and I hope others too) the EV1 was practical ten years ago - yet you dismiss it as impractical in one sentence. I also have a question for you - why was the EV1 only practical for driving in warm weather states? (I've not heard anything about this possible shortcoming and I would like to understand it more).

That's the technological side of your article that I take issue with. Let's start educating people about the real world benefits of pure electric vehicles and let's do it in a non-political fashion.

But wait, there's more. While not necessarily a political piece your column provides GM with a free pass when it comes to canning the EV1 program. Shouldn't we hold up the world's largest automaker to a higher standard of accountability? Quite frankly they dropped the ball on this one. They had the chance to be a leader, not a follower, and to consolidate on the real world gains that they had in their hands with the EV1. What did they do? They threw it away. Fast forward to today and they are stumbling in the marketplace and the Japanese automakers are further advanced in the field of hybrids (and one would imagine that will transfer to gains in plug in hybrid electric vehicles which will compete with the Volt).

Having waited to be a follower, the GM marketing machine (including Messrs. Wagner & Lutz at the top) now proclaim their excitement about electric vehicles as the wave of the future with the Volt just a possible 3 years away. Their behavior is not surprising - that's what they're supposed to do to ensure that their company looks smart (not dumb). What is sad is that we as a public accept their words at face value. It is especially sad that you as a member of the media with a mission to look beneath the surface and educate your readership seem content to put forth GM's company line.

Some final food for thought:
- the billions of dollars that market to the current trends perpetuate the myth that people don't want an electric vehicle
- the Bush administration policies are pro-oil and indeed it was the under the Bush administration that the federal government sued California over the zero-emmission regulation
- when GM canned the EV1 they sold their controlling share in the battery maker to Chevron who locked down the patent and won't license the technology to be used in a pure electric passenger vehicle

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