"Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?
We do! We do!"
-The Stonecutters Drinking Song, The Simpsons episode 2F09.
Marge: Boy, that quiet engine sure makes conversation a lot easier.
Homer: Yeah, it's got a lot of other problems, too.
Lisa: Look, Dad, you're heading for the harbor!
Homer: Relax, we're in an electric car.
-The Simpsons episode AABF23.
"If this doesn't work...we're not gonna have enough power left to
-Astronaut Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), Apollo 13
Photo by Greg Hanssen.
It was really strange to see a piece of my own life in the Smithsonian. I felt like I was looking at a former family pet, taken away while still young and healthy, put down, gutted, stuffed by a taxidermist and put on public display behind rope barriers and a "do not touch" sign. At least nobody seemed to mind when I hopped over the barrier to re-enact the photo above.
I would have liked to sit in it again, but the door was locked and the keypad was inoperative. Oh well.
Photo by Kimberly Karn, my wife. We dated in this car.
Here are some notes on the fire hazard that prompted the Gen I EV1 recall. (Gen II EV1s were not affected by the recall).
On August 16, 2000, after over five months of driving numerous rental cars paid for by GM, I took delivery of a new Gen II (1999 model year) EV1 with nickel-metal-hydride batteries. It was great to be back in an EV1 again.
On August 15, 2003, my Gen II EV1 lease expired, and I was forced turned it back in. I was given no option to extend the lease or buy the car, and word has it that GM is destroying these cars. So I felt like I was euthanizing a young and perfectly healthy family pet.
It was bad enough that GM dug in its heels early and refused to build more than a token number of EV1s. But refusing to allow satisfied, paying customers to keep their existing cars was simply beyond the pale. GM gave its official reasons: lack of demand (see below), the cost of stocking spare parts (for a car that required virtually no maintenance!) and the state standardizing on conductive charging (which won't kick in until the end of the decade). These excuses were so transparently lame as to deeply insult the intelligence of every EV1 driver.
The real reason, I suspect, is much simpler. GM thought they could produce a good EV, deliberately make it hard to get, and then point to their small numbers to escape the California government mandate to make EVs more generally available. But GM was caught totally off-guard by the popularity of the EV1, and their plan began to backfire. Despite virtually no marketing, a sales force that actively discouraged interest, and severe restrictions (the car was available only in a few California and Arizona cities, and was never offered for sale, only lease) nearly every EV1 made was leased, and about 1,000 people were waiting in line if any more were ever produced. (Naturally, GM denies the existence of any waiting list, but we have ample evidence that it did, albeit informally.)
So when GM filed suit against the California Air Resources Board's ZEV mandate, it could no longer tolerate the vocal enthusiasm of the EV1 drivers belying the claim that "nobody wants EVs". So it decided to take its marbles and go home. And the saddest thing of all is that their "big-lie" propaganda campaign worked. CARB backed down, the EV1 drivers' spirits are broken, and the man on the street seems to "just know" (because he heard it on a talk show) that "EVs don't work". Sometimes the bad guys do win. Sigh.
I will never buy another car from GM. Admittedly this isn't much of a sacrifice on my part because -- with the sole exception of the EV1 -- I have never been impressed by GM's otherwise mediocre products. I still have nothing but admiration for the GM engineering team that built the EV1, and for the few dedicated marketers who really seemed to believe in it. But I have nothing but utter contempt for the cynical GM managers who methodically killed it. Think of them the next time you're waiting in a long line at a gas station, breathing fumes and smog, listening to the radio for news of the latest American war in an oil-rich Middle Eastern country.
Some people disparage the concept of a "zero emission" electric vehicle by calling it an "emission elsewhere" vehicle. They are correct that when you include emissions from the utility power plants, EVs aren't exactly zero emission vehicles. But they are much cleaner than gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. Here's an analysis I did a few months ago using raw data from the California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission websites. (20 Apr 1999)
Electric vehicles are novel enough that anybody driving one (especially an EV1, since it is so visually distinctive) gets peppered with questions. I certainly get my share. Here are the ones I get most often. Some are what you'd expect, and some are pretty surprising.
Here are some of my Thoughts on EV Charging Interfaces (revised 18 Sep 1998 - comments invited).
Here's a map and an annotated list of the public inductive EV chargers in San Diego County. (updated 22 Aug 2000)
Here's a partial list of public chargers in Orange County (under construction - updated Nov 17 1998).
Here's some info on EV1 power consumption and making sense of the EV1's PWR USE meter.
Some notes (and questions) on SDG&E's Time of Use Meter (updated 29 May 1999)
Qualcomm, my employer, installed one inductive and one conductive EV charger in the parking lot behind our old building Q (which has since been handed over to Ericsson). Both chargers were provided by Edison EV. See my photos of this site to show the right way to install these things!
The EV1 is a "pure" EV; it has no engine, and all its energy comes from external sources of electricity. The latest automotive fad is for the "hybrid" gasoline/electric vehicle. Not being one to miss an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon, I have developed a way to turn my EV1 into a hybrid vehicle. Read the details here.
Here are some links to other interesting EV sites:
My favorite ironic
Last updated: 30 November 2005
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