As Plug-In Industry Races Forward In LA, MotorWeek Looks Back At The EV1 – video review

NOV 20 2015 BY JAY COLE 60

GM EV1 Gets Put Through Its Paces By Motorweek (circa 1997)

GM EV1 Gets Put Through Its Paces By Motorweek (circa 1997)

It was curious timing for MotorWeek to re-publish an 18 year old review of the forefather of today’s generation of electrified vehicles – GM’s EV1.

Yet on a day when:

…MotorWeek did just that – put out a retro review on the EV1

We’ve come a long way.

Of Note:  Keep an eye out for the “small” convenience recharger around the 2:30 mark

Hat tip to offib!

Categories: Concepts, General, Videos

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60 Comments on "As Plug-In Industry Races Forward In LA, MotorWeek Looks Back At The EV1 – video review"

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EV1: Back when GM treated EVs as “Inevitable”, to borrow where VW may still be:

This ad is a very negative one. It is when they decided to crush them. There are 3 more on you tube, completely the opposite of this anti-marketing one.

Thx for that link pj.

I can remember when the EV1 was in development. I was a young engineer then in aerospace and I thought it was a fascinating engineering challenge.

In those days I didn’t even know about global warming yet but the whole project fascinated me none the less.

Interesting that in the article video they put the cycle life for the old lead acid batteries at just a little less than 500 cycles.

Also I think GM invented the first electric air conditioning compressor.

hehe,, GM didn’t invent the first semi-hermetic compressor, unless you include Frigidare.

Chrysler would be insulted, since they had a whole DIVISION (Chrysler AIR-TEMP), which made plenty of 30 to 100 horsepower v-configured semi-hermetics (granted a refrigeration compressor is much like, although not identical to an internal combustion engine. – One difference is a double mechanical seal since the crankcase pressures are much higher, and leaks are verboten, and sometimes the intake valve is in the middle of the piston).

So glad to have driven the EV1 in high school!

Oh, ScArY Aerodynamics. Loser, someone tell Porsche they’ve been doing it wrong for 75 years.

So, they were not cheap. That was probably the only issue for adaption.

But, can you imagine these with LI batteries???

Yes, it would not pass today’s crash testing and safety requirements. It simply would not be on the road.

Not sure, it had air bags back then, and other state of the art safety features. And a new EV1 rolled out now would have been adapted. I even wonder why you did not think of a such obvious adjustment?

It was really a fine car. See for yourself.

And with NI-MH batteries the range was even more than what we have today (except for Tesla) 105 miles adjusted 2015 EPA.

EV1 only achieved 3 star crash rating in Front driver and passenger under the old standards and never tested side impact.

Crash standards are much higher today and it would have required a brand new chassis design, coupled with far more safety features to be on the road today.

So you say it was an average safe car then. There was no noticeable security flaws at all for the era and your point has no base.
Take the time to look at the GM’S presentation please.

3 star isn’t average..

I don’t know many cars today that get below 4 stars…

September 21, 1998 – 12:01 am ET
WASHINGTON – Federal safety officials for the first time have crash-tested an electric car, General Motors’ EV1, and found that it performed satisfactorily. (3 stars)

But NHTSA officials, commenting beyond the rating announcement, said the EV1 also met industry guidelines for isolating electrical equipment and limiting spillage of electrolyte, or battery acid. The goal is to protect occupants and rescue workers from electrical shock or acid burns in the event of a crash.

It’s kind of a joke, a look on the NHTSA web site (pdf) most get 5 or 4 stars, but 49% got “insufficient data” !

“it would have required a brand new chassis design, coupled with far more safety features to be on the road today.”

Yes, of course, that’s not an issue or an impediment. They can hire the Mazda Miata engineers if it takes “rocket science”.

Partial testing is not valid. Easy to take the worst partial score … Give us a link.

The Honda Insight and Fit pass crash safety tested. The Chevy Spark passes crash tests, the Mazda Miata passes.

That’s not an issue.

I remember seeing one on the road in down town Atlanta around 1999 or 2000. That was the only time I saw one in the wild. They have one at the Henry Ford Museum also.

Would love to sit in one. Also wondering how far one would go if stuffed with GM Bolt batteries. It had 1200 pound lead acid in the first gen if I remember correct.

The first generation EV1 did indeed use lead-acid batteries… dunno how much they weighed. The second generation used NiMH batteries, which were cutting edge tech at the time!

The 2016 30 kWh pack is less than 600 lbs (half the weight). So 1200 lbs of batteries today could provide at least 60 kWh of energy capacity!

There’s an interesting documentary on the demise of the electric car featuring the EV1 called, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

Everyone interested in EVs should watch that, but keep in mind it’s propaganda. There are a lot of facts there, but also a lot of… well, at best wishful thinking. Like pronouncing batteries “not guilty” of killing the EV1. Batteries were at the time certainly too limited and too expensive to make a car cheaply enough to compete with gasmobiles. Had GM sold the EV1 for what it actually cost to build it, almost no one would have bought one.

In fact, to some extent batteries are still too expensive and too limited in 2015, for cars in price ranges less than the Tesla Model S. But we’re getting closer every year!

In short, batteries were the #1 cause of killing the EV1, contrary to what is said in “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

* * * * *

I tried to find a good link to the documentary, but it looks like it’s no longer available at YouTube (or rather, the copy I find there isn’t watchable), and the only place I find it looks to be a pirate site. Here’s a link to the official trailer:

I agree. I think the documentary definitely sheds light on a few things that needed to be shown. And it does have a lot of good facts. But I also agree that the batteries were not really ready at that stage. BUT… Having said that, if there hadn’t been a decade-long pause in the development of EVs I think we’d be a lot further along today than we are.

I think the batteries of today are good enough to make the cars practical and profitable, especially in PHEV setups where such a large battery is not needed.

I recomend the book “The Car That Could”. I wouldn’t say it was to expansive. They just designed the first (and sadly only) badge of EV1s to be handbuild (like Miray is today). If really mass produced, it would have been about the price of an 2011 Leaf (just for a two seater of course).

NiMH batteries where tricky, because they needed some full cycles from time to time – but nothing that couldn’t have been done at service centers or with special chargers.

But jeah, the documentary exaggerated a little here and there. And GM couldn’t simply have sold them because in that case they would have been forced by law to guarantee maintenance for them for 10 years. But they could have leased them over and over until the last one fell apart – no need to scrap them, damned!

Cavaron said:

“…GM couldn’t simply have sold them because in that case they would have been forced by law to guarantee maintenance for them for 10 years.”

And also, they would have had to keep making replacement parts, also mandated by law.

As an EV enthusiast I do sympathize with the documentary’s viewpoint, in “blaming” GM for deliberately “killing” the car, rather than continuing to keep developing and producing a line of BEVs. But realistically, I understand why GM needed to kill the program. It was just too expensive, and there is no way GM could have ever turned a profit on the car in the era before li-ion batteries. GM is, after all, in business to make money.

Today, NiMH batteries are still used in some non-plug-in HEVs. But so far as I know, all* current production plug-in EVs use li-ion batteries; even the Prius Plug-in (RIP) replaced the normal Prius NiMH battery pack with a li-ion pack.

*(Actually, there are still some cheap BEVs being made in China using lead-acid batteries. But nothing that could compete in the very competitive new car market in first-world countries.)

The movie did not just “blame GM for crushing its EVs”. It als blamed all the other automakers for crushing their EVs as well. Consumers, oil companies, and others were also blamed for killing the EV. Only batteries got off Scott free, which I agree was not accurate. The movie got everything else pretty much accurate.

Most people who watch the movie think only GM scrapped their cars, but there is a lengthy scene of Honda shredding an EV Plus. Toyota crushed RAV-4 EVs, Ford exported all the used Th!nks back to Norway, and Nissan made their little EV (with Li-ion batteries) disappear.


I originally watched ‘who killed the electric car’ on Netflix, but it seems to be gone now. They still have the sequel ‘revenge of the electric car’ which was more recent and covers the birth of Tesla and the volt.

Propaganda is what we are surrounded with 24/7 on TV.

I disagree to call this movie propaganda, I found this documentary to be very balanced, exposing plenty of facts from all sides. Their judgement at the end of each segment is like a short score attributed, the same we make for ourselves. We just don’t have to agree with their scores for all the “suspects”, as I did.

As they say: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” At various points, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” violates that principle. That’s why I say it’s propaganda.

For example, the limitations of battery tech was in large part responsible for “killing” the EV1. The documentary tells us that battery tech was good enough at the time, and that’s just not true. That’s a fact, not merely an opinion.

No it was not the fact is that the NI-MH version gave it 105 miles of EPA 2015 converted range, 16 years ago.

This was no limitation at all for 95% of the population.

“Cars with the lead-acid pack had a range of 80 to 100 miles, while the NiMH cars could travel between 100 and 140 miles between charges.” Let’s pretend for a moment that this is actually average real-world driving range, and not merely what GM advertised. Let us further pretend we don’t know that in almost every single case, the range touted by an EV maker is overly optimistic. Yes, even Tesla Motors; they claimed the Model S is a 300 mile car, remember? I need not pretend to remember reading an impassioned report from one EV1 owner who said that it was a “daily drama” trying to complete his 80 mile commute to work and back during cold weather. From what he said, his EV1 would sometimes die after 75 miles. Of course that’s an outlier; but his experience is every bit as valid as some hypermiler who actually managed to average 140 miles (or even a bit more) in his EV1. But regardless of what the EV1’s range actually was or wasn’t, that range was achieved by putting a battery pack in the car which was so large it occupied the space otherwise used for a back seat. If… Read more »

Have an objective look at this page. What we take for Facts can be revealed false sometimes.

“-freeway commuting with minimal stop and go: 130-150 miles per charge
-city driving mixed with freeway (including “performance demonstrations”): 100-130 miles per charge
-worst case – hard use including driving in the hills: 75-100 miles per charge”

You keep harping away on the claimed range of the EV1. Yeah, and so what? Even before that, there were reports of garage tinkerers loading up the bed of a pickup with deep cycle lead-acid batteries, and getting enough range for daily driving.

Again, so what? Since commercial production of NiMH batteries began, it has always been possible to stuff enough batteries into a small car to give it a reasonable range.

None of this addresses the issue of whether or not battery tech was, at the time, too limited to make a compelling EV which could actually be made and sold at a competitive price. You’re confusing what is possible, in the engineering sense, with what is practical in the commercial sense.

I agree too. Who Killed the Electric Car? is a fun movie but I disagree with the conclusion they draw at the end. The EV1’s technology was not good enough and gasoline was very cheap at the time. The world was just not yet ready for EVs. We had to wait until Li-Ions became standard technology and for gasoline prices to shoot up.

Currently I’m working on a idea about a wild herd of self driving cars being led around by a intelligent self driving EV1. The cars don’t talk or anything but they drive around and behave like a pack of wild buffalo. It shows what AL intelligence could lead to.

According to Wikipedia, GM also had CNG, FC, hybrid version of EV1 as well as 4 seater. Can you imagine where GM would be if they followed through, even just with hybrid version? Toyota might’ve been going through “bankruptcy” (I call it fradulent bailout) instead of GM.

Since I missed out on the first go around, I’m so glad to be driving GM EV on second go around! 🙂

I wonder if there’s kit car of EV1 for SparkEV. Anyone?

Honda’s 1st gen Insight – perhaps also the VW XL1 – is the closest production vehicle to the EV1 .. in the sense that they were willing to make significant compromises for aerodynamics.

The Insight 1st gen was greatly outsold by the Toyota Prius. Debuting in a time of $1/gal gas meant that the ~50% greater efficiency was less of a financial consideration, and the styling and seat configuration were tradeoffs that fewer people were willing to make.

I have a 1st gen Insight. It’s a great car, I’d have loved to see a production EV1 as well, but I don’t see any reason why a hybrid EV1 would have succeeded where Honda failed.

If not for government incentives, how many current EVs would be sold?

It will be very interesting, in two years, if gas is still this cheap.

We will get to see if they fail again.

Warren, it will be interesting to see what happens when the credits go away in the 2 or 3 years for Tesla, then GM and Nissan. I have a feeling that Tesla will drop slightly after the credit goes away, but GM and Nissan will drop their MSRP by just about $7500. By 2017 or 2018 I think they will be making a good amount on their electric cars than they are now, even with modest reduction in MSRP in the next couple years.

I think one of the problem with Insight was being 2 seater, limiting utility (ie, only a commuter car). GM had 4 seater EV1 in the works, it could’ve been a contender to Prius. Seeing how second gen Prius with it’s weird shape sold well, I don’t think it’s only the shape, but utility.

I was so so so tempted to get the Insight. If it was 4 seater, I might be driving the Insight now instead of SparkEV. Funny how life works out for the better. 🙂

Most of the mainstream media in US are anti-EV and no wonder they will publish videos like this to show the people that EVs are not mainstream.

But World has changed a lot and there are more than 1 million EVs/ Plugins in world today with China being the #1 seller this year and #2 in EV/Plugin population.

2015-November should be a hot month in this segment with the launch of Leaf (30 KWh battery version), Sonata Plugin and A3 plugin.


The poor EV1 never stood a chance. I love the movie “Who killed the Electric Car?” but the truth really is that battery technology wasn’t ready yet and gasoline was just too damn cheap at the time.

The EV1 launch right around when gasoline was at its inflation adjusted lowest price ever!

There you go joining the brainwashing mass media.
OFFFFF course gas is cheap, it’s the mostly subsidized thing on Earth and also the one that externalize just about all its downfall.
Please educate!

The batteries were fine. The ugly truth is, as we see in the movie, that the CARB was pressurized (then infiltrated) by Oil companies, that the Bush family is an Oil business that sued California for their Zero Emissions law, that Texaco made the battery disappear, and that GM crushed the cars, more than a thousand of them, to make sure nobody can witness the awesomeness of driving electric.
Never in the whole history of the automobile, people walked in protest and got arrested to keep the cars. They even offered a global check to GM.

John refers to the fact, twice, that GM made their first electric car in 1912. Anyone know what that was? I’m familiar with early electric cars, and my guess is that he was referring to a company GM later bought. Guesses?

1912 was the peak year for early EV production, so it’s hard to say. It looks like there were a very large number of small production run EVs, so there could be a lot of candidates with little or no online documentation, because there are few or no surviving units.

Here is one possibility which actually has some online documentation, altho they’re EV trucks rather than cars:

We should not forget the Solectria Sunrise, technology demonstrator built in limited numbers but never sold. Better aerodynamics than the EV1, four seats, but not fast. It made some remarkable distance runs in the ’90s. The question is, if it were mass produced in aluminum instead of handbuilt from composites, how much would it cost. One example had fiberglass molds taken from it a few years ago, which were used to create a running replica.

I really wish GM would have stuck it out with the EV1.

I don’t care that it had Citroen rear styling, and plenty of people who drove them were passionate about how much they loved the car.

The car had a waiting list of hundreds, even AFTER GM ran commercials showing Ghostly Shadows, and not even showing the whole car, trying to scare as many people away from the car instead of doing a hard sell showing the cars features, or a soft-sell showing how fun and ‘environmental’ the car was.

The large stationary, and small portable chargers were fully practicable for any situation.

Contrary to some nonsense you hear, the second perfected battery gave the thing supposedly around 120 miles, and, seeing as there are some original ravEV’s around with the original battery after all these years, tends to prove they were pretty good, even more robust than what we have now.

“The car had a waiting list of hundreds…”

Yes, the EV1 had some very passionate owner-fans. But having a small group of passionate fans does not a commercially viable product make. If Tesla had had only a few hundred reservations — or even just a few thousand — for the Model S or the Model X, they would have canceled production, because it would have been clear they couldn’t sell enough of them to make a profit.

Here’s an analogy with which I have personal experience: As a home theatre enthusiast, I really loved my laserdisc player back in the day, as did other home theatre enthusiasts. But I do understand why it never became a mainstream product; the laserdiscs themselves were much too expensive as compared to VHS tapes or, later, as compared to DVDs.

Pu pu, you forgot to mention the car was only available in CA, and not everywhere, and on leasing term.
The Tesla was offered worldwide as a buy and had pre manufactured order available.
The difference of magnitude/type of offer there made the EV-1 probably more of a success than the S.
Don’t you think?
It was something great that has been terminated.

If they also released the 4 seater and hybrid version, it would’ve been very interesting. Basically, it’d be better 2004+ Prius release before 2000. 2 seater is just too limiting.

Something I still can’t figure out is that GM spent all that money on R&D, and they just throw it all away? Geez. I guess it worked out well for Tesla, though, with GM engineers who cut their teeth on EV1 later working at Tesla.

Here’s a list of technologies that GM spent fortunes developing and threw away for other automakers to perfect:
mass-produced turbocharged car (Porsche 911)
aluminum block + piston combo (Porsche 924)
belt-driven overhead cam (everybody)
rear-mounted transaxle (Porsche 928)
small aluminum V-8 (Rover bought the tooling)
fuel injected car (Corvette right behind the Mercedes gullwing)

But hey, opera windows! Tail fins! Giant screaming bird decals!

Curious what the cost to replace those lead acid batteries would have been compared to today’s batteries? Also can they be re-built and re-used?

Suggest looking at deep cycle Forklift batteries to give you a rough guide.
It would not be pretty for the weight / capacity of charge either.

GM missed the 100 EV1 pick up trucks. They were all bought and resold with NiMH batteries and still run today.

Motorweek are celebrating their 35th anniversary and have been showing us clips of reviews, behind the screens, etc. Nothing ominous about showing an EV1 review, though the EV1 and its fate are the definition of ominous and the genesis of the modern mass-produced EV.

At a car show, in Harrisburg PA, in I’m guessing 1998. They had a cut away EV1. Has anyone seen this? Pictures or video on line??