Ten years ago, my local electric company invited me to participate in a two-week test of the then-new General Motors EV-1 electric car. After some detailed vetting, including a ten page questionnaire and a long focus group (with the de rigueur one-way mirror), I was selected to receive an electric-powered GM two-seater. For those of you who wonder who killed the electric car, it was me.
The EV-1 looked as futuristic as its plug-in powerplant. Even today, its wind-tunnel sheet molded exterior has an appealing modernity– despite (because of?) the rear wheel spats. Inside, the EV-1 was a roomy two-seat vehicle– albeit one with a huge center tunnel (concealing a storage area for the batteries).
The lack of rear seats befit the nature of the car, keeping weight and size down. In [partial] compensation, the EV-1 had a large trunk, capable of holding a number of suitcases, a brace of golf bags or other luggage. The conventional notchback coupe-based design offered a trunk that opened on gooseneck hinges, providing a flat cargo area with a netted divider to keep loose items from flying about.
GM's boffins located the control panel for the EV-1's operational functions– radio, AC, four-digit keypad ignition, etc– to the right of the driver's side. The gearshift lever blocked access to some of the key functions. The EV-1's dashboard doesn't sport any traditional gauges or instrumentation. A central control "hump" contained the a speedometer/odometer and the all-important digital battery power readout: teeny-tiny horizontally-stacked ice blue bars signifying the amount of charge left in the batteries.
The same display could also show the amount of load on the batteries. Coasting on flat Florida lands, the bar graph racked-up two or three bars. With a heavy right foot and the AC blasting, it was one of Hef's Girls Next Door on a bender (nine out of ten bars).
The bar display frequently disagreed with the amount of miles left display. This was, in part, due to the different methods of calculating the amount of charge. The bar display was more closely related to actual state of charge of the batteries while the amount of miles left display attempts to come up with an average mileage available left based on previous driving habits. On at least one occasion, with twelve miles left on the display, the vehicle ran out of juice, leaving me hunting for a 110 plug.
That said, driving the torquetastic EV-1 was a pleasant experience, roughly equivalent to helming an ICE-powered V6 coupe. I could hit sixty in about eight seconds. The EV-1's rack-and-pinion steering made the car a joy to toss around on twisty roads, and easy to park. Noise was a problem; the whine was not unlike listening to a Singer sewing machine.
My daily commute was thirty-seven miles one way. With a 75-mile range, every trip was loaded with drama. If I went to lunch, I gave up a few precious miles. That could mean disaster (we're talking southern Florida here). I started driving the EV-1 home with the AC and radio off. I once coasted into my driveway, and pushed her into the garage.
In my two week test, I drove more than nine hundred miles. My total electrical consumption: approximately $12. This is equivalent to eight gallons of gasoline at $1.50 per gallon (can you imagine?). And that means that "my" EV-1 averaged a little more than 100 miles per equivalent gallon of fuel. This dramatic cost savings is one of the EV-1's shining points. Of course, the EV-1 was also clean as a whistle– at the [non-existent] tailpipe. That doesn't factor-in the carbon expended at the electricity at the coal or oil-powered powerplant, or the risks imposed by nuclear power.
As we all now know, GM scrapped the program and crushed all of the EV-1s. And now GM is mounting an alt power comeback with the plug-in electric – gas Volt. While I'm all in favor of start-stop engine technology, I have to wonder what might have been if the EV-1 had continued its evolution. All I know is this: the EV-1 may have been IT. But it wasn't it.