Monday, April 13, 2009

GM’s EV1 Could Have Saved It From Today’s Money Woes

Most North American automakers are hyping their hybrids these days. As the global depression continues to worsen – statistics show we lost over 61,000 jobs last month here in Canada – everyone is looking at cheaper ways to live.

That and the high price of gas, mean instead of selling the sex appeal of a shiny red sports car, the raw power of a 4X4, or the amount of leg room in a mini-van, car companies are selling economical realities – mainly fuel efficiency.

You can see how very deep we`ve fallen into this global depression. Towards the end of last year – some five-months ago – these very same car companies were selling safety. They knew we were in an economic crunch, so sex appeal, speed and size weren’t the focus of their ads.

Now that they really are desperate for your business, they are going right for your bank book – claiming you`ll save money by driving a hybrid.

Hybrid vehicles use a combination of gas and electronic engines to drive them. While motoring along at low speeds in big city traffic (usually under 40KM/Hour) the electric engine silently powers the vehicle. Anything faster and you’re still using the standard gasoline-based engine. The electronic component is powered by a series of batteries, which are charged while driving the vehicle at higher speeds – when the vehicle is using the gas engine.

Hybrids do save money, because they save fuel costs. You won’t spend as much money at the gas pump driving a hybrid as you would if you were driving a non-hybrid, regular vehicle.

However, you’d save even more money on fuel if you didn’t have to pay for it at all.


Back in the 1990’s General Motors test-launched their first fully electric car in Southern California. The General Motors EV1 was the world’s first completely rechargeable electric vehicle. These cars were small, and sleek, and could simply be plugged into an electrical outlet to be charged.

When GM first test-launched the EV1 in 1996, it was an instant hit. Thousands of people signed up for a chance to test drive the world’s cleanest and most efficient vehicle, built by one of the largest companies in the world. Only a handful was given the opportunity, and all those who had them gave them very positive reviews.

GM allowed those in the test group to lease the vehicles for a maximum of two-years. At the end of the lease, GM collected the car – unlike most leases where you have the option of buying out the remaining value of the car, or even re-leasing it, GM took the car back. Most of those in the test group didn’t want to lose their cool electronic car, begging GM to reconsider. But in the end, all but a couple EV1s were destroyed. Those that were left have been altered so that they no longer function, but can be displayed in museums.

Originally, they had a limited range of 96 to 112KM (60 to 70 miles) on a single charge, but they were improved and eventually could travel 177KM to 257KM (110 to 160 miles) on a single charge. One of the engineers that created the original battery went on record to say that they could even go up to 482KM (300 miles) on a single charge, if they incorporated some of the technology from lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries aren’t uncommon, they are the same type powering the laptop this blog is being written on today.

Clearly, the distance one could travel in the GM EV1 weren’t an issue – even the initial low range of 96KM (60 miles) per charge is below the average most Canadian’s travel in a typical day between home and work and back home.

Remember, this was back in the 1990’s, during the George W. Bush reign in the White House, and long before our current economic woes.

President George W. Bush – a former oil tycoon – and his administration was said to have placed a lot of pressure on GM to kill the EV1 project. Bush had the might not just of the American government behind him, but also the rest of the oil and gas industry, which would lose millions if people stopped buying their products.

Time shift to present day, and GM just announced the layoffs of over 50 engineers at their Oshawa, Ontario plant – they have already laid off thousands of employees worldwide. The company’s shares dropped so much today, that the constant talk of bankruptcy is looking to be more than just talk – General Motors, the largest automaker in the world may actually go bankrupt.

Yet GM, along with Chrysler and Ford, are hoping their hybrid vehicles will save them in this brutal economy.

Had GM not scrapped the EV1, they’d be in a far better position than they are today, because they could offer their customers real economic savings and something the oil and gas executives don’t want you to have – choice. We’re forced to rely solely on the oil and gas industry to power our travel. You can’t choose to buy an electric – or any other alternative fuel-powered vehicle – anywhere. Everything on the road is powered by some form of petroleum.

But instead of being on the leading edge of technology, catering to the real needs of their customers for fuel efficiency, they dropped the ball and are begging governments around the world for loans to stay in business.

Yes, the big scary American government and oil and gas tycoons had a part to play in this story. But it was GM’s product, GM’s research and GM’s innovation which made the first fully electronic car possible. So, in the end, the blame falls squarely on GM, for failing to take advantage of that product, research and innovation.

Had GM continued the EV1 project in the 1990’s, it probably wouldn’t be on the brink of bankruptcy today. Like the invention of the mini-van by Chrysler in the 1980’s which saved the company from going out of business, the EV1 could have kept GM afloat, in today’s troubled economic waters.

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