1997 General Motors EV-1 Review

Michael Posner
by Michael Posner

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.

Michael Posner
Michael Posner

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  • Mlhm5 Mlhm5 on Jul 12, 2008

    Not really off subject, but if anyone at any car company or our federal government was really interested in ending our dependence on oil they would have marketed CNG cars with generous tax breaks years ago. The USA has a 100 year supply of natural gas (5th largest in the world) and that's if every single car and home used natural gas. The world has a 1000 year supply. Yet we still have coal fired power plants and use 20+% of the world's oil.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Jul 14, 2008

    The EV is BACK! Not the Rav4EV or the EV-1. This time is a sports utility truck by Phoenix Motors. Just saw this one on the 'net this morn. 250 mile range, 0-60 speeds under 10 seconds (just), and 110 mph top speed. It is a normal sized vehicle with normal features. Since most of my in town travels take me fewer than 20 miles at a time and even my out of town travels take me less than 100 miles from home - this might be the right vehicle. Four doors, seating for 4 or five people and a cargo bed to carry stuff home from the hardware store or bikes to the park or groceries from grocery store. In other words it is similar to the Subieroo Baja that disappeared a year or two ago. This meets all of my needs in a vehicle and I will be SERIOUSLY looking into the further when I buy my next car. It is more expensive than I want to spend on a car/trucklet but we'll see where the market is when I am actually BUYING one. Question is - with the tech being available - why aren't the mainstream companies building these already??? Oh never mind - dead horse... VBG!

  • Jerry Haan I have these same lights, and the light output, color, and coverage is amazing!Be aware, these lights interfere with AM and FM radio reception with the stereoreceiver I have in my garage. When the lights are on, I all the AM stations havelots of static, and there are only a couple of FM stations that are clear. When Iturn the lights off, all the radio stations work fine. I have tried magnetic cores on the power cords of the lights, that did not makeany change. The next thing I am going to try is mounting an antenna in my atticto get them away from the lights. I contacted the company for support, they never responded.
  • Lou_BC Are Hot Wheels cars made in China?
  • DS No for 2 reasons. 1-Every new car pipelines data back to the manufacturer; I don't like it with domestic, Japanese and Euro companies and won't put up with it going to Chinese companies that are part financed by their government. 2-People have already mentioned Vinfast, but there's also the case of Hyundai. Their cars were absolutely miserable for years before they learned enough about the US market
  • Theflyersfan Well, if you're on a Samsung phone, (noticing all of the shipping boxes are half Vietnamese), you're using a Vietnam-built phone. Apple? Most of ours in the warehouse say China, but they are trying to spread out to other countries because putting all eggs in the Chinese basket right now is not wise. I'm asking Apple users here (the point of above) - if you're OK using an expensive iPhone, where is your Made in China line in the sand? Can't stress this enough - not being confrontational. I am curious, that's all. Is it because Apple is California-based that manufacturing location doesn't matter, vs a company in a Beijing skyscraper? We have all weekend to hopefully have a civil discussion about how much is too much when it comes to supporting companies being HQ-ed in adversarial countries. I, for one, can't pull the trigger on a Chinese car. All kinds of reasons - political, human rights, war mongering and land grabbing - my morality is ruling my decisions with them.
  • Jbltg Ford AND VAG. What could possibly go wrong?