Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Remember The EV1?

Hideous may be the best modifier for the EV1, GM's early foray into the dizzying world of alternative energy transportation. Hideously ugly. Hideously inefficent. And now, hideously honored by the rewriters of history.

Before going further, let me say if I could rewrite one line in a movie, it would be the "plastics" line in The Graduate. In my mind, the guy would wrap his arm around Ben and say, "gasoline." And he'd be right. Today, Ben would be in his 60s and if he had gone into gasoline, he'd be doing quite well, as gas remains one heck of a great way to move people: efficient, not a big energy-burner in production, and quite clean.

But I digress. There are those who lament the loss of GM's insanely stupid EV1 (see the EV1 Club site), who remember it as better than it was, and who see vast, dark conspiracies behind its death. My friend Jim sent me an email from one such demento, along with a response that is worth reading by anyone who thinks there will be an easy, clean, cost-effective alternative to gasoline found any time soon.
Ciszek) wrote:
>In the 90's GM produced a line of electric cars called the EV1 that had a following of hard core fans in California, Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson among them. These cars had no trouble accelerating and keeping up in California traffic, and once they went from lead-acid to NiMH batteries, the range between charging was 130 miles. None of these cars were sold, however, only leased. Once US Automakers managed to defeat California's "zero emissions" requirement, GM quit renewing leases, repossessed the cars, and destroyed them. A bunch of fans of the cars offered GM $1.9 million for the last 78 used EV1's that were sitting in a lot, but they were taken away and crushed. GM kept insisting that no one wanted to buy the cars.

A Doug Wickstrom responded:

Some facts about the EV1, the research and development of which was produced by _my_ division of GM, Hughes Electronics:

General Motors lost two billion dollars on the project, and lost money on every single EV1 produced. The leases didn't even cover the costs of servicing them.

The range of 130 miles is bogus. None of them ever achieved that under normal driving conditions. Running the air conditioning or heater could halve that range. Even running the headlights reduced it by 10%.

Minimum recharge time was two hours using special charging stations that except for fleet use didn't exist. The effective recharge time, using the equipment that could be installed in a lessee's garage, was eight hours. Home electrical systems simply couldn't handle the necessary current draw for "fast" charging.

NiMH batteries that had lasted up to three years in testing were failing after six months in service. There was no way to keep them from overheating without doubling the size of the battery pack. Lead-acid batteries were superior to NiMH in actual daily use.

Battery replacement was a task performed by skilled technicians taking the sorts of precautions that electricians do when working on live circuits, because that's what they were doing -- working on live circuits. You cannot turn batteries "off." This is the reason the vehicles were leased, rather than sold. As long as the terms of the lease prohibited maintenance by other than a Hughes technician, GM's liability in the event of a screw-up was much reduced. Technicians can encounter high voltages in hybrid vehicles. In the EV1, there were _really_ high voltages present.

Lessees were complaining that their electric bills had increased to the point that they'd rather be using gasoline.

One of the guys I worked with transferred to the EV1 program after what was by then a division of Raytheon lost the C-130 ATS contract. He's now back working for us. He has some interesting stories, none of them good, though he did like the company-subsidized apartment in Malibu. He said the car was a dream to drive, if you didn't mind being stranded between Bakersfield and Barstow on a hot July afternoon when a battery blew up from the combined heat of the day and the current draw.
Clarification: There is one fuel alternative to gasoline that's ready and worth considering: diesel. Watch for the new diesel cars out of Germany. Incredible Daughter #1 has been tracking them and says they're clean, quick and high-mileage.

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