General Motors EV1

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General Motors EV1
Three-quarters view picture of a silver electric vehicle, taken in what seems to be a desert.
ManufacturerGeneral Motors
Model years
  • 1997 (Gen I): 660 units
  • 1999 (Gen II): 457 units
AssemblyUnited States: Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Craft Center)
Body and chassis
ClassSubcompact car
Body style2-door coupé
LayoutTransverse front-motor, front-wheel drive
Electric motor
TransmissionSingle-speed reduction integrated with motor and differential
Electric range
  • EPA, revised to 2019 procedure:
  • Lead–acid: 55 mi (89 km)
  • NiMH: 105 mi (169 km)
  • EPA, original 1999 procedure:
  • Lead–acid: 78 mi (126 km)
  • NiMH: 142 mi (228 km)
Plug-in charging6.6 kW Magne Charge inductive converter
Wheelbase98.9 in (2,510 mm)[1]
Length169.7 in (4,310 mm)[1]
Width69.5 in (1,770 mm)[1]
Height50.5 in (1,280 mm)[1]
Curb weight

The "General Motors EV1", often simplified to "GM EV1",[2] is a battery electric car produced by the American automobile manufacturer General Motors. It was produced from 1996 until its demise in 1999, but the EV1 program ended four years later.

A subcompact car, the General Motors EV1 marked the introduction of mass produced and purpose-built battery electric vehicles.[3][4] The conception of the EV1 dates back to 1990 when General Motors introduced the battery electric "Impact" prototype, upon which the design of the production EV1 was largely inspired. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) enacted a mandate in 1990, stating that the seven leading automakers marketing vehicles in the United States must produce and sell zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) to maintain access to the California market.

Mass production commenced in 1996. In its initial stages of production, most of them were leased to consumers in California, Arizona, and Georgia. Within a year of the EV1's release, leasing programs were also launched in various other American states. In 1998 General Motors unveiled a series of adaptations for the EV1, encompassing a series hybrid, a parallel hybrid, a compressed natural gas variant, as well as a four-model model, all of which served as prototypes for possible potential future models. Despite favorable customer reception, General Motors believed that electric cars occupied an unprofitable niche of the automobile market. The company ultimately crushed most of the cars, and in 2001 General Motors terminated the EV1 program, disregarding protests from customers.

Since its demise, the EV1's cancellation has remained a subject of dispute and controversy. Electric car enthusiasts, environmental interest groups, and former EV1 lessees have accused the company of self-sabotaging its electric car program to avoid potential losses in spare parts sales,[note 1] while also blaming the oil industry for conspiring to keep electric cars off the road.


In contrast to numerous electric vehicles of its time, the EV1 was a purpose-built electric vehicle, not a conversion of another car.[5][6] This factor contributed to its significant development of US$350 million, as well as its high production costs.[7][8] Kenneth Baker, a General Motors engineer, served as the lead engineer for the EV1 program, having previously served as such for the unsuccessful Chevrolet Electrovette program in the 1970s.[9][10][11]


Picture of a unusally-shaped concept car, taken in a mountainous environment with the sun setting.
The 1990 GM Impact electric concept car

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the automobile industry saw little progress in electric car development; over 80 percent of vehicles produced in the United States featured V8 engines.[8][12] But shifts in federal and state regulations began to influence this. The enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment and the 1992 Energy Policy Act, alongside the introduction of new transportation emissions regulations by the California Air Resources Board, contributed to a revived interest in electric vehicles in the United States.[8]

In January 1990 General Motors chairman Roger Smith demonstrated the Impact, a battery electric concept car, at the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show. General Motors aimed for a production rate of 100,000 cars per year, as opposed to the initially proposed 20,000.[13] Developed by the electric vehicle company AeroVironment, the Impact drew upon design insights acquired from General Motors' participation in the 1987 World Solar Challenge. This challenge was a trans-Australia race for solar vehicles, in which the company's Sunraycer was victorious.[14][15][16] Alan Cocconi of AC Propulsion designed and built the original drive system electronics for the Impact, and the design was later refined by Hughes Electronics.[17][18][19] The car was powered by 32 lead–acid rechargeable batteries.[20] On April 18, 1990 Smith announced that the Impact would become a production vehicle with a goal of 25,000 vehicles.[21][22] The Impact achieved a top speed of 183 mph (295 km/h).[23]

Impressed by the feasibility of the Impact and spurred by GM's commitment to produce a minimum of 5,000 units, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) initiated a significant environmental effort in 1990.[24] They mandated that each of the seven largest automakers in the U.S., with GM being the largest among them, must ensure that two percent of their fleet would be emission-free by 1998,[9] increasing to five percent by 2001 and ten percent by 2003, based on consumer demand.[25] The board clarified that the mandate aimed to address California's severe air pollution issue, which, at that time, exceeded the combined pollution levels of the other 49 states.[26] Other participants of the former American Automobile Manufacturers Association, including Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, also individually developed prototype zero-emissions vehicles in response to the new mandate.[27][28]

In 1994, GM initiated "PrEView", a program in which fifty handcrafted Impact electric cars would be loaned to drivers for durations of one to two weeks, with the stipulation that their feedback and experiences would be documented.[29][30] Volunteers were required to possess a garage suitable for the installation of a high-current charging unit by an electric company.[31] Driver response to the cars was favorable, as were reviews by the automotive press. According to Motor Trend, the Impact "is precisely one of those occasions where GM proves beyond any doubt that it knows how to build fantastic automobiles. This is the world's only electric vehicle that drives like a real car." Automobile called the car's ride and handling "amazing", praising its "smooth delivery of power".[32] That year, a modified Impact set a land speed record for production electric vehicles of 183 mph (295 km/h).[33] Despite the good reception, as highlighted in a front-page feature in The New York Times, GM appeared to be less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having created a thriving electric car:

General Motors is preparing to put its electric vehicle act on the road, and planning for a flop. With pride and pessimism, the company, the furthest along of the Big Three in designing a mass-market electric car, says that in the face of a California law that requires that [two] percent of new cars be "zero emission" vehicles beginning in 1997, it has done its best but that the vehicle has come up short. ... Now it hopes that lawmakers and regulators will agree with it and postpone or scrap the deadline.[31]

According to the report, General Motors viewed the PrEView program as a failure, led them to believe that the electric car was not yet viable, and that the CARB regulations should be removed. Dennis Minano, GM's vice president for Energy and Environment, questioned whether consumers desired electric vehicles. Robert James Eaton, chairman of Chrysler, also doubted the readiness of mass produced for electric cars, stating in 1994 that "if the law is there, we'll meet it ... at this point of time, nobody can forecast that we can make an electric car". These automakers' skepticism was criticized by Thomas C. Jorling, the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation for New York State, which had adopted the California emission program. According to Jorling, consumers had shown significant interest in electric cars. Jorling suggested that automakers were hesitant to transition from internal combustion engine technology due to their massive investments.[31]

First generation[edit]

The rear three-quarters view of an electric automobile with a hidden rear wheel and a shown front wheel. Photo is taken in what looks like a desert
The rear view of the EV1

Following the PrEView initiative, work on the General Motors electric car program persisted. While the original fifty Impact cars were destroyed after testing was finished, the design had evolved into the GM EV1 by 1996.[20][34] The first generation, often referred to as the "Gen I", would be powered by lead–acid batteries and had a stated range of 70 to 100 miles.[35] A production run of 660 vehicles ensued,[36] with paint options including dark green, red, and silver.[37] The vehicles were offered through a leasing arrangement, explicitly prohibiting the option to buy under a contractual provision (with a suggested retail price listed at $34,000).[38] Saturn assumed responsibility for leasing and maintenance of the EV1.[39] Analysts projected a potential market ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 cars annually.[7]

Similar to the PrEView program, lessees were pre-screened by GM, with only residents of Southern California and Arizona initially eligible for participation.[40][41] Leasing rates for the EV1 ranged from $399 to $549 a month.[42] The car's debut was marked by a significant media event, featuring an US$8 million promotional campaign incorporating prime-time TV commercials, billboards, a dedicated website, and an appearance at the premiere of the Sylvester Stallone film Daylight. Among the initial lessees were notable figures such as celebrities, executives, and politicians. At the release event, 40 EV1 leases were signed, with GM anticipating leasing 100 cars by year's end. Deliveries began on December 5, 1996.[38] In the first year on the market, GM leased just 288 cars.[43] But in 1999 Ken Stewart, the brand manager for the EV1 program, characterized the feedback from the car's drivers as "wonderfully-maniacal loyalty".[44][45]

Joe Kennedy, Saturn's vice president of marketing at GM, acknowledged concerns regarding the EV1's price, the outdated lead-acid battery technology, and the car's restricted range, stating, "Let us not forget that technology starts small and grows slowly before technology improves and costs go down".[38] Some groups opposing taxation expressed disapproval of the exemptions and tax credits given to EV1 lessees, arguing it amounted to government-subsidized driving for affluent individuals.[38] Certain groups, such as the fake consumer organization "Californians Against Utility Company Abuse", which opposed the use of taxpayer funds for public EV charging stations, were accused of being funded by oil companies with interests in maintaining the dominance of gasoline cars.[46]

Marvin Rush, a cinematographer for the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, noticed that General Motors was not adequately promoting the EV1. Concerned, he personally invested $20,000 to create and broadcast four unofficial radio commercials for the car. Although GM initially opposed this initiative, their stance shifted later on. They decided to endorse the commercials and reimburse Rush for his expenses. In 1997 the company allocated US$10 million for EV1 advertising and pledged to raise this amount by an additional US$5 million the next year.[47]

The badging of a car. The badging is silver, saying "EV1".
Badging of an EV1

Second generation[edit]

In 1998 for the 1999 model year General Motors released a second iteration of the EV1. Noteworthy improvements included lower production costs, quieter operation, extensive weight reduction, and the advent of a nickel–metal hydride battery (NiMH).[48] The Gen II models were released with a 60 amp-hour, 312-volt (18.7 kWh, 67.3 MJ) Panasonic lead–acid battery pack.[49] Subsequent models featured an Ovonics NiMH battery, rated at 77 Ah with 343 volts (26.4 kWh, 95.0 MJ).[50] Cars with the lead–acid pack had a range of 80 to 100 mi (130 to 160 km),[51] while the NiMH cars could travel 120 to 140 mi (190 to 230 km) between charges.[15] The second generation EV1 leasing program expanded to several other American cities, with monthly payments ranging from $349 to $574.[52] A total of 457 second generation General Motors EV1s were produced by the company and leased to customers.[53][54]

On March 2, 2000 General Motors issued a recall for 450 first generation EV1s. The automaker had determined that a faulty charge port cable could eventually build up enough heat to catch on fire.[55] Sixteen "thermal incidents" were reported, including at least one fire that resulted in the destruction of a charging vehicle.[56] The recall did not affect second generation EV1s.[57]


GM established lease payments for the EV1 based on an initial vehicle price of US$33,995.[58] Lease payments varied from approximately $299 to $574 per month, contingent upon the availability of state rebates.[59] An industry official suggested that each EV1 cost the company around US$80,000, including research, development and other associated costs;[60] other estimates placed the vehicle's actual cost as high as $100,000.[58] GM invested slightly less than $500 million into the EV1 and electric vehicle-related technologies,[61] and over $1 billion in total.[62][63]


Construction and technology[edit]

In order to enhance its efficiency, extensive wind-tunnel testing was conducted on the EV1, and General Motors additionally implemented partial fender skirts on the rear wheelhouses. The rear wheels are 9 inches (230 mm) closer together than the front wheels, thereby creating the "teardrop" shape. These factors resulted in a very low drag coefficient of Cd=0.19 and a drag area of CdA=3.95 sq ft (0.367 m2).[64][65][66][67] Its design incorporated super-light magnesium alloy wheels and self-sealing, low-rolling resistance tires developed by Michelin rounded out the EV1's good efficiency characteristics.[68][29] These tires, mounted on the lightest fourteen-inch wheels ever used, are inflated to 50 pounds per square inch (psi), compared to the standard 35 psi for normal tires. The special rubber compound utilized in these tires, along with their hardness, contributed to its low rolling resistance.[64]

Its recyclable aluminum structure was the world's lightest, weighing 290 pounds (130 kg).[69] Thus it constituted 10 percent of its overall weight, in comparison to the usual 20 percent. The EV1 features regenerative braking, a system in which applying the brakes turns the drive motor into a generator. This process not only slows down the vehicle but also captures its kinetic energy, returning it to the battery for reuse. In order to save weight and maximize performance, General Motors designed the EV1 as a subcompact two-seater vehicle.[70][71][72] Efforts to minimize weight extended to most of the components of the car, including the incorporation of magnesium in the frames of the seats.[72] In addition, the power-assisted anti-lock brakes are electrically activated. The front disc brakes operate on an electro-hydraulic system. The rear drums represent an industry first, being fully electric, which eliminates the requirement for hydraulic lines or parking brake cables.[64]

Traditionally vehicles use heat produced by the engine to heat the passenger compartment. But since electric vehicles generate minimal waste heat, an alternative solution had to be conceived. General Motors opted for a heat pump to regulate the temperature inside the EV1, consuming a third of the energy required by a traditional unit for both cooling and heating. Nevertheless the system effectively warmed passengers only when temperatures exceed 30 °C (86 °F). To address colder climates, upcoming electric vehicles were anticipated to incorporate heat pumps alongside compact fuel-fired heaters.[64]

Drivetrain and battery[edit]

Picture of a silver car charging at a charging station in California.
An EV1 charging at the Walnut Creek BART Station, California on August 11, 2002.

The electric motor in the General Motors EV1 operated on a 3-phase AC induction system, generating 137 brake horsepower (102 kW) at 7,000 revolutions per minute (RPMs).[70][73] The EV1 could maintain its full torque capacity across its entire power range, delivering 110 pound-feet (150 N⋅m) of torque from 0 to 7,000 RPMs.[74][75] Power was transmitted to the front wheels through an integrated single-speed reduction transmission.[76][77][78]

The first generation EV1 models featured lead–acid batteries weighing 1,175 pounds (533 kg).[79][80][81] These batteries, initially supplied by GM's Delco Remy Division, were rated at 53 amp-hours at 312 volts (16.5 kWh), offering an initial range of 60 miles (97 km) per charge.[82][83][37] In 1999 the second generation EV1 cars adopted a new set of lead–acid batteries from the Japanese electronics company Panasonic, increasing the weight to 1,310 pounds (590 kg).[84][85] The batteries were rated at 60 amp-hours at 312 volts (18.7 kWh), extending the EV1's range to 90 miles (145 km).[86] Shortly after the introduction of the second generation cars, the planned nickel–metal hydride (NiMH) "Ovonics" battery pack, developed under the Delco Remy organization, commenced production.[87][88][89] This pack made the car's curb weight 2,908 pounds (1,319 kg).[90] The NiMH batteries were rated at 77 amp-hours at 343 volts (26.4 kWh), providing a range of 160 miles (257 km) per charge, doubling the range of the original first generation cars.[89][91] Charging the NiMH-equipped cars to full capacity could take six to eight hours, thus meeting the needs of over 80 percent of American drivers.[92]

The EV1 utilized the Magne Charge inductive charging paddle, manufactured by Delco Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors.[93][94] This paddle was inserted into a slot located between the EV1's headlights.[85] The wireless charging technology ensured that no direct connection was required, although there were rare instances of fires starting at the charge port.[95][96] For fast recharging of the vehicle, a home charger provided by GM was necessary.[97] In addition to the fast charger, General Motors offered a 120-volt AC convenience charger for the lead–acid battery that could be utilized with any standard North American power socket for slower charging of the battery pack.[98]


General Motors revealed a family of alternative fuel prototype models at the 1998 Detroit Auto Show.[99] Among these, the compressed natural gas variant was the only model in this family that was not electric, and it was a conversion of the standard two–seat EV1 platform. It featured a 1.0-liter turbocharged engine, and its advertised fuel efficiency was rated at 60 miles per US gallon (3.9 L/100 km; 72 mpg‑imp).[100][101] The series hybrid prototype featured a auxiliary power unit (APU) housing a gas turbine engine situated in the trunk.[102][103] Supplied by Williams International, an American manufacturing company founded by Sam B. Williams,[102][104] the unit comprised a lightweight gas turbine and a high-speed permanent magnet AC generator, the former of which primarily charged the vehicle's batteries.[101][105] The Williams APU had the capability to operate on either compressed natural gas or gasoline. According to GM's assertions, the vehicle could attain 60 miles per US gallon (3.9 L/100 km; 72 mpg‑imp) when running on the latter, offering a total range of 390 miles (630 km). Conversely when operating solely in electric mode, it was estimated to achieve a range of 40 miles (64 km).[106] The parallel hybrid variant featured a 1.3-liter Isuzu turbocharged, direct injection diesel engine, delivering 75 hp (56 kW).[107] General Motors also introduced a fuel cell variant; its system comprised a fuel processor, an expander/compressor, and a fuel cell stack.[107] Another noteworthy development was the unveiling of a four-passenger variant of the EV1, extended in length by 19 inches (480 mm).[108][109]


A brief summary of the EV1. A black and white picture is on the right.
A brief overview of the background, production, design, and demise of the General Motors EV1, with a picture of one on the right taken at the Grand Canyon National Park.

Despite favorable customer reception, General Motors believed that electric cars occupied an unprofitable niche of the automobile market.[110] The company ended production of the EV1 in 1999, after 1,117 examples were produced over its tenure of under three years.[111][112] On February 7, 2002 Ken Stewart, the brand manager of GM Advanced Technology Vehicles, informed lessees that GM would be recalling the cars from the road,[113] which contradicted a previous statement indicating that GM had no plans to withdraw cars from customers.[114] The EV1 program was terminated in late 2003 under the leadership of then-General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner.[115][116]

58 EV1 drivers submitted letters along with deposit checks to GM, seeking lease extensions with no financial burden on the automaker. These drivers indicated their willingness to cover maintenance and repair expenses for the EV1, while granting GM the authority to terminate the lease in case of costly repairs. Despite this proposal, in June 2002 GM declined the offer and returned the checks, totalling over US$22,000.[113][117] In November 2003 GM initiated the retrieval of the vehicles;[118] approximately forty units were donated to museums and educational establishments, albeit with deactivated power systems intended to prevent future operation.[119][120] However, most of the vehicles were dispatched to car crushing facilities for demolition.[121][122]

In 2003 Peter Horton, an actor who also reported for the Los Angeles Times, sought to lease an EV1 from GM but was informed that he "was welcome to join their waiting list [of a few thousand] along with [an undisclosed number of] others for an indefinite period of time, but his chances of getting a car were slim".[25] In March 2005 GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss discussed the EV1 with The Washington Post, noting that "There [was] an extremely passionate, enthusiastic and loyal following for this particular vehicle [...] There simply [were not] enough of them at any given time to make a viable business proposition for GM to pursue long term".[123]

By the end of August 2004 General Motors had reclaimed all leased EV1s from their lessees, resulting in the absence of any EV1s on the road. However, one EV1 was showcased at the Main Street in Motion exhibit at Epcot in Walt Disney World, located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.[121]

Reaction and image[edit]

Posters on a Toyota RAV4 EV protesting against the crushing of the EV1.

Since its demise and destruction, General Motors' decision to cancel the EV1 has generated dispute and controversy.[124][125] The American Smithsonian Magazine described the EV1 as "not technically a failure",[126] whereas the Australian Financial Review newspaper contended that while "successful, [the EV1] was doomed to fail".[127] These opinions were due to the economic infeasibility of the EV1, and General Motors has been acknowledged for discontinuing the EV1, with the American newspaper Automotive News asserting that this decision helped General Motors avoid decades of losses.[128] But despite this praise, many criticized GM's decision to phase out the EV1.[44][129][130] Electric car enthusiasts, environmental interest groups, and former EV1 lessees have accused the company of self-sabotaging its electric car program to avoid potential losses in spare parts sales, while also blaming the oil industry for conspiring to keep electric cars off the road.[131][132]

As car sales declined later in the decade amid the onset of global oil and financial crises, perspectives on the EV1 program underwent a shift. In 2006 Wagoner admitted that his decision to discontinue the EV1 electric-car program and neglect hybrid development was his biggest regret during his tenure at GM. He emphasized that while it didn't directly impact profitability, it did tarnish the company's image.[133] Wagoner reiterated this sentiment in a National Public Radio (NPR) interview following the December 2008 Senate hearings on the U.S. auto industry bailout request.[134] In the March 13, 2007 issue of Newsweek, "GM R&D chief Larry Burns ... now wishes GM hadn't killed the plug-in hybrid EV1 prototype his engineers had on the road a decade ago: 'If we could turn back the hands of time,' says Burns, 'we could have had the [Chevrolet] Volt ten years earlier'",[135] alluding to the Volt considered as the indirect successor to the EV1.[136]

Legacy and post-demise[edit]

Two sports cars, the yellow one on the left, and a red one on the right, parked on a large, grassy plain. In the background stands the Golden Gate Bridge.
EV1 (right) next to an AC Propulsion tzero (left). Three of the latter were built, but only two survived.[137] Alan Cocconi was the conceiver of both cars.[138]

The demise of the EV1 inspired the conception of the American battery electric carmaker Tesla Motors. Appalled by GM's decision to discontinue and destroy it, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning established Tesla Motors in July 2003. Just half a year later, Elon Musk provided substantial funding and assumed the role of chairman.[139] Musk stated in a 2017 Twitter post that "Since big car companies were killing their EV programs, the only chance was to create an EV company, even though it was almost certain to fail". He stated in a subsequent tweet that it had "nothing to do with government incentives or making money. I thought there was a 90 probability of losing it all (almost did many times), but it was the only chance".[140][note 2]

Research showed that manufacturers were at least a decade behind in terms of electric vehicle adoption, technology, and infrastructure. While EV1 is considered ahead of its time, it could also be seen as a product of its era and the technologies available at that time. Lead-acid and NiMH batteries had been around for decades, aerodynamics were well understood, and electric motors were already in widespread use.[15]

As part of GM's vehicle electrification strategy,[141] and following the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid vehicle to the American market in late 2010, the Chevrolet Spark EV was launched in June 2013. It marked General Motors' first all-electric passenger car release in the United States since the discontinuation of the EV1 in 1999.[142] The Spark EV was phased out in December 2016, coinciding with the introduction of the Bolt by Chevrolet.[143]

In popular media[edit]

Front view of a dark green car, with yellow caution taping exclaiming, "CRIME SCENE DO NOT TOUCH". It is on the tray of a large truck.
An EV1 at a promotional event for the "Who Killed The Electric Car?" film.

The EV1's demise is explored in the 2006 documentary film titled "Who Killed the Electric Car?", in which the EV1 serves as the main subject.[144][145] The film covers the history of the electric car, its modern development, and its commercialization. It addresses future concerns regarding air pollution, oil dependency, and climate change. The documentary explores various factors contributing to the EV1's cancellation, including CARB's decision to reverse the mandate after pressure and lawsuits from automobile manufacturers, influence from the oil industry, anticipation surronding a future hydrogen car, and the perfidy of the George W. Bush administration. The film extensively covers GM's efforts to convince California that there was no demand for their product, followed by their decision to repossess and dispose of nearly every EV1 manufactured.[146]

The American news magazine Time named the EV1 as one of the "50 Worst Cars of All Time". The magazine lauded its design and engineering, stating that it "was a marvel of engineering [and was] absolutely the best electric vehicle anyone had ever seen". But they criticized it for being very expensive to build, which led GM executives to terminating the program. They described GM as the company that "killed the electric car".[147]

See also[edit]

Notes, citations and sources[edit]


  1. ^ Sales forced by government regulations
  2. ^ This is the quote he made in Twitter, but with adjustments to ensure grammatical accuracy.


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