Today electric vehicles have become a common sight on roads around the world although EVs are still financially Out of Reach for most households budget options by Major manufacturers are beginning to appear at dealerships there’s no doubt that the 2020s are going to be the decade that they go mainstream in fact over 50 countries have banned the sale of new petrol-fuel cars in the coming decades.
HISTORY OF ELECTRIC VEHICLE
With that being said there’s a lesser-known story here a fascinating hidden history what many don’t realize is that the electric vehicle revolution has been attempted before and it almost happened in the mid-1990s General Motors released what is widely considered the first True commercial electric car the ev1.
The ev1 was a critical and Commercial Success a shining example of what an electric car could be but suddenly this industry-altering product mysteriously disappeared from the market the customers were happy and wanted to keep their cars but General Motors took all the ev1s and shipped them off into the desert to be crushed .
Let’s explore this twisting and bizarre story of the first modern EV and what stopped the electric Revolution before it had a chance to properly begin. it’s hard to believe but there was a long time ago when EVs dominated city streets astonishingly electric powered wagons predated gasoline-powered cars the first of these came in 1884.
It was a patent by Thomas Parker although it was a great start it was more of a hybrid steam-powered car than a truly electric one but in 1888 German innovator Andreas flocking manufactured what historians regard as the first true EV. long after Carl Benz invented the motor wagon which was the basis for the automotive industry of the next Century but even with the competition of gas-powered options the public still preferred Electric why because they ran smoothly and they were quiet meanwhile gas-powered Vehicles were loud produced smoke and needed a lot of muscle to start because you had to use a hand crank in 1894.
The first American EV company was founded by Morris and Salem electric carriage and wagon company and by 1897 electric taxis had hit the street and the floodgates were Open. The industry was flooded with EV Innovation over the next 10 years there was a 12-seater electric Carriage that could travel up to 20 miles per hour and another electric car could do 25 miles on a single charge how about a massive 5-ton electric truck it was manufactured by Baker a company with 17 different other electric models in its line up by 1907. The EV industry with a large number of upper-class models being released .For a Time electric vehicles ruled the roads it looked like the next Century would be filled with clean whisper quiet transport but it wasn’t to last in the mid-1910s things began to change the invention of the muffler and electric starter reduced the petrol car’s engine noise and need for a hand crank respectively.
Road infrastructure was also improving eventually requiring vehicles to travel at higher speeds there was also a decade of massive crude oil deposit discoveries globally pushing petrol prices down and reducing operating costs for gasoline-powered vehicles. At this point EVS just couldn’t keep up the EV industry basically went silent there was a small Revival in the 60s and 70s .When environmental concerns were front of mind but there wasn’t anything of real note until the 1990s .In the early 1990s the Los Angeles city population had reached 3.5 million people collectively this population owned an incredible amount of cars subsequently pollution had risen to dangerous levels pollution was measured to be higher in all other states combined .This was a massive public health issue so State politicians and environmental departments started directing their attention at the millions of gas guzzling vehicles on the road. Policy makers pushed for lower emission clean burning Vehicles. Some car manufacturers were happy to explore it would only be a matter of time before California became the front line for the 1990s electric car Revolution.
Chrysler entered the market with the van it could carry five passengers with a top speed of 70 miles per hour however this wasn’t enough to impress consumers and they only produced 56 examples due to the low interest another company sir bring Vanguard released the a two-seater mini car and another early 90s EV company called Soul electrical released the sole electrical force – a converted Suzuki Cultus .There was a lot of activity going on and it must have been exciting to see such rapid Innovation back then much like is happening today in the EV Market. The most integral car of the time was produced by General Motors it was called the impact and it was unveiled at the 1990 LA Auto Show it was a Sleek modern looking electric vehicle that could reach impressive speeds of 180 miles per hour. The impact was built off the back of the sun racer concept car which gained attention after winning the 1987 World solar challenge a trans-Australia race for solar-powered Vehicles although GM had intended to produce 5000 commercially viable cars the impact never made it to showroom floors but it did pave the way for the first real Contender for the mainstream EV Market
EV MOMENTUM GROW
“Hello I’m Bob Purcell executive director of General Motors advanced technology vehicles I am excited to have this opportunity to welcome you to be part of the team that is about to make Automotive History in 1996 General Motors built upon the lessons learned from the impact to produce the EV1 electric car is here powered by lead acid batteries and boasting a range of 70 to 100 miles there were 660 cars made in a trial run the arrangement was to lease them to the public but with a specific Clause that disallowed the option from ever owning the car outright. This strange Arrangement was a foreshadowing of what was to come today is the first day GM’s elect Republic on the liberations are being held today at Saturn retailers in Los Angeles San Diego Phoenix and Tucson where the ev1 are in stock but this car isn’t for everyone in fact GM expects that most of its customers will earn over one hundred fifty thousand dollars a year and not mind paying up to 650 a month to lease a car that is Kinder to the environment the General Motors ev1 was a massive hit it was praised for its speed high-tech accessories and received the level of hype that would only be later seen by Tesla.
It was all looking good for electric vehicles and General Motors a trusted brand in the industry was on board momentum was building well it’s actually very quiet very refined very quick and very drivable in essence a jolly good little car make no mistake. The days of the internal combustion engine are definitely numbered it wasn’t long before GM’s work in the EV space caught the attention of the California air resources board who was still concerned about pollution levels the board saw advancements being made as an opportunity to push for more significant emission reductions a mandate was passed by legislators it stipulated that if automakers wanted to sell their cars in California a percentage of the vehicles needed to produce zero emissions. The number of these zero emission Vehicles would start at two percent and would rise yearly until petrol-fueled cars were completely phased out initially manufacturers were eager to comply with the mandates as they saw the success of GM’s ev1 thus more and more EVS appeared on the market .Most brands such as Toyota opted to convert their existing models into electric for example releasing the RAV4 EV .Honda unveiled its EV plus model, Nissan started selling the ultra EV.
Chevrolet put out the S10 electric pickup which Ford responded to with their Ranger EV although the manufacturer and the sales of these models were limited there was a notable shift in how the media and public spoke about EVS.
Skepticism as is always the case with impending large-scale change there was a lack of faith in their towing capacity fears of depending on unknown technology and the uncertainty over the ability of charging stations. Some of the same conversations are going on today EVs is aimed at a very small and select audience of techies and environmentalists who want no more from their cars but a 100 mile range between charges but they do want to make a statement .
GM is to be commended for being the first on the Block but surely the EV1 is not yet ready for Mass consumption. This growing skepticism led to a backlash against the shift and the Californian government faced precious to remove the Mandate. A protest movement grew with consumer groups like The Californians against utility company abuse forming these groups backed by local businesses lobbied against the Mandate and against the installation of charging stations claiming it was a waste of taxpayer dollars. This caught the attention of EVs enthusiasts for them something smelt fishy why would anyone vehemently oppose such minor issues such as charging stations
an investigation would soon be launched it didn’t take long to discover that these anti- EV groups were not Grassroots movements by concerned citizens. They were well organized intentional campaigns backed by the oil and automotive industry it didn’t stop at local Council meetings either major oil companies like mobile took out ads and significant newspaper Publications contesting the effectiveness of EVS in an environmental sense arguments were made that the environmental cost of electricity through coal plants was more significant than the straightforward burning of petrol. EVS were just heavy polluters only with more steps while the specific arguments that they made were eventually debunked the damage had already been done.
Auto manufacturers began to get nervous and they joined the pushback the California phase-out mandates were now opposed not just by oil companies but the car manufacturers themselves and now the California authorities were forced to negotiate terms with the automakers an agreement was made and the Mandate was altered a change was implemented that stated that car manufacturers were only required to produce EVS based on customer demand it was now up to the automakers to build the large numbers of EVS that the public were calling for or persuade them against them those within General Motors Electric Division claimed to have spent more than one billion dollars on marketing the ev1 over the four years between 1996 and 2000.
It built a solid portfolio of Interest among the public but GM Executives claimed that the numbers were never High Enough it was later uncovered that there was an extensive waiting list about 4000 people long but it’s alleged that internally General Motors was doing everything in their power to dissuade the public from signing on to an EV by the time their convincing was done only 50 people on the waiting list remained these numbers however doctor they may have been were enough to prove to the Californian authorities that they had been relatively little interest in EVS .In California in 2001 General Motors shut down the ev1 assembly line and let go of all the staff. On the EV team other companies followed with many Asian manufacturers like Toyota focusing on hybrid technology instead U.S companies took things a step further filing legal action against the state of California over the mandate.
THE DREAM IS OVER
In October of 2001 newly appointed President George W bush officially back to the automotive industry in the fight to remove California’s EV mandate. President Bush supported the removal of all mandates as did his chief of staff Andrew H Car Jr it should be recognized that Mr card Jr was once the chief lobbyist for GM and led the Auto industry trade Association in opposing the mandates.
When they first came into effect unfortunately under the weight of lobbying manufacturers the industry leaders and politicians California buckled and in April of 2003 California’s revolutionary electric car mandate designed to reduce pollution and improve the health of citizens was dissolved this was the final nail in the coffin for the ev1 there was no hope of a return environmentally friendly car is fueling a passionate debate .
General Motors wants to take the ev1 out of commission but some very dedicated drivers are resisting .We have a little turn for driving an ev1 it’s called Rocket Ride and we are not going to just stand here we’re going to keep demanding that they build these cars again anybody else feel that way they’re perfectly functional cars that are being taken off the road. Every single person who’s driven the car wants one I can’t even tell you the price of gas I don’t know what the Gown again I could care less it doesn’t affect me protests were held across California and the ev1 owners even organized a mock funeral to protest the decision. It was old to no avail in one of the strangest choices ever made by an automaker when the ev1 leases ended the company refused to renew the agreement and rejected office for the customers to buy their cars outright .
Despite this being what the customers wanted GM would inevitably reclaim their vehicles and this was thought to be the end of the story. It was later discovered that nearly all the EV ones produced were reclaimed by GM shipped out of state and destroyed in the desert. EV enthusiasts and previous leaseholders even raised enough money to purchase every existing ev1 from GM but the company denied the offer.
Honda and Toyota followed in GM’s footsteps destroying large amounts of fully functioning relatively new in-demand EVS cars that could have been the early stepping stones for the future of the automotive industry.
KILLING YOUR DARLINGS
Once again the EV dream was over the biggest question still remained why was this happening why did a manufacturer like General Motors who had spent nearly a decade and over a billion dollars working towards an electric Revolution turn against the cause or one explanation is that General Motors never believe that the EV would be a profitable Venture and planned for it to fail in the beginning they only went along because of the mandates what’s alleged is that despite the public demand the automakers ran the numbers and they saw long-term profit losses that came with EVs .
This is particularly compared to combustion engines regular cars require expensive maintenance and parts replacement servicing and repairs account for a large percentage of profits for car manufacturers. When they saw that EVS require very little ongoing maintenance they saw this as a threat to their profits if you say how about an electric car no it’s a totally different game boy there’s less maintenance on electrical there’s there’s almost no maintenance because there’s no internal combustion engine so there’s no carburetor there’s no tune-ups there’s no air filters to change.
There’s not even a transmission so the electric car really challenges the whole fundamental business structure for the car companies and unfortunately the electric car has another problem it doesn’t use any oil so the electric car instantly goes after two Bedrock Industries in the country and that makes it a very difficult to sell this self-sabotage within. GM has now become apparent and dates back to the beginning of the Saga remember the impact that electric concept car that could travel 180 miles per hour or GM ran a program that they called preview which saw the company land 50 of these EVS to hand-picked drivers for a period of one or two weeks the drivers would then log their experience the program supervisor Sean claimed to expect less than 100 people would volunteer for the program but they ultimately received more than 10 000 applications the response from the drivers was overwhelmingly positive but regardless General Motors Executives label the program of failure and they used this as evidence against the mandates and regulations and the EV transition in general
In 1995 the American automobile manufacturers Association which consisted of representatives from Ford Chrysler and GM hired a PR firm to campaign against California’s EV mandate uncovered documents show that the automakers oppose the Mandate despite acknowledging a growing demand for EVS a lot of activists also believe that oil companies were to blame acting out of fear of losing their product relevance in an increasingly Electric World their heavy involvement in the early protesting in the California mandates showed a particular interest in that subject following the closure of the ev1 production line Chevron subsidiary Texaco even purchased the battery manufacturer that GM had bought to supply the state-of-the-art batteries in the ev1 and then there’s political interference when the automakers faced the state of California during the court case there was evidence of direct interference it also didn’t help that as mentioned the President’s chief of staff was the head of the same Industry Group that hired a PR firm to campaign against the mandates while it’s likely that it’s not just one of these theories but a combination of them that entered the electric car it’s clear that regardless of who had the most responsibility the reason behind it was consistent profit learning the history of electric vehicles is a sobering lesson in how we repeat history the good news is that today the outcome looks completely different
EV technology has drastically improved and the choices are growing every month and many options are even starting to be better than their petrol counterparts as more car manufacturers are involved in the electric space and prices begin to drop it looks like we’re finally here but you can’t help but think in knowing all of this that it shouldn’t have taken this long you also can’t help but wonder what could have been if the ev1 didn’t get destroyed it could have been the very early test bed for future Improvement if that would have been the case we could have been at least a decade ahead in terms of innovation but alas I guess that’s just how The Story Goes so the next time you see an electric car on the road think of the EV1
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