- The 1997 General Motors (GM) EV-1 Electric Vehicle (EV) (Credit: General Motors (GM))

The GM EV1 Was A Trailblazer For Today's Electric Vehicles

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Today, electric vehicles (EV's) are more of a common sight than they were back in the 1990s. In fact, two of Detroit's "Big Three" manufacturers offer EV's: Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) sells the Fiat 500e, and General Motors (GM) sells the Chevrolet (Chevy) Bolt EV. But back in the 1990s, EV's were a new idea: with auto manufacturers coming up with new ways to fuel their vehicles, EV's not only introduced the public to a new way to power their vehicles, but they also aimed to reduce emissions, especially in areas such as California, which had very strict emissions standards.

Our story begins in 1990, when General Motors (GM) introduced a concept Electric Vehicle (EV) at the Los Angeles (L.A.) Auto Show: the Impact. Developed in cooperation with EV manufacturer AeroVironment, the Impact, with plans to release the vehicle to the public in the near future. In 1994, GM introduced "Project PrEView", in which the company would lend prototype versions of its future Impact EV to American consumers in select markets for one to two weeks in order to gauge public response. Over 14,000 interested consumers called into GM's call center, although only fifty examples of the Impact made it into consumer's hands. Based on positive customer feedback, GM announced that they would be releasing the final production version of the Impact in the coming years.

In late 1996, GM finally introduced the production version of the Impact to the general public, and it now had a name: the EV-1 (as GM's first Electric Vehicle). The EV-1, which was introduced for the 1997 model year and featured a similar design to the Impact concept with minor styling changes, featured an estimated 70-mile driving range from its lead-acid batteries, and offered a comfortable cabin for two passengers, with amenities such as an A/M-F/M stereo with cassette and CD players, air conditioning, and an all-digital dashboard. But rather than market the EV-1 under one of its brands, GM decided to brand the EV-1 as a GM, and market it through select Saturn dealerships in Southern California, as well as Arizona. The 660 cars, which could only be leased (not purchased) for anywhere from $350 to $549 per month for 36 months (with an estimated total price of around $34,000), were assembled at GM's Lansing Craft Centre in Lansing, Michigan, which assembled other "one-of-a-kind" vehicles such as the Buick Reatta and the Chevrolet SSR, as well as more "mainstream" vehicles like the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire Convertibles, and the Cadillac Eldorado Coupe. Lessees of the EV-1 were pre-screened by GM. In 1999, GM extended the EV-1 program to other areas of California, as well as Atlanta, Georgia.

Gaining access to the GM EV-1's spaceship-like interior was just as unique as the vehicle itself, as there were no door or ignition keys: an EV-1 driver would enter his or her own unique access code into the keyless entry keypad located on the driver's door (similar to that of the "Securi-Code" door keyless entry keypads on Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury productions of today), and then enter that same code into a second keypad located in the center console in order to power up the EV-1. Once inside, the EV-1 was actually a pleasant car to drive: it had a top speed of around 80 miles per hour (MPH), which meant that it could easily keep up with city traffic, as well as be taken on the freeway. To charge the EV-1, all a driver would have to do is plug an inductive charging "paddle" into a port on the "nose" of the vehicle, which connected to a charging unit. Charging units had to be leased separately from the EV-1 itself, and could be leased for approximately $50 per month for the term of the EV-1 lease.

In 2002, after 1,117 EV-1's had rolled off of the assembly line at Lansing Craft Centre, GM pulled the plug (er, sorry) on the EV-1 program. Lessees were notified via mail that GM would be required to return their EV-1's to the Saturn dealership from which they were leased. GM actually received many letters from satisfied consumers asking GM to purchase their leased EV-1's. GM declined, and by 2003, any remaining EV-1's that had not already been returned to Saturn dealerships had their powertrains "deactivated", and the vehicles were "repossessed" from their lessees. In fact, all EV-1's were "deactivated", and most of them met their fate of the crusher, while others were donated to technical colleges, educational institutions, or museums, under the agreement that they could never again be driven on public roads. In fact, the Smithsonian Institution in (Washington) D.C. has an EV-1 in their possession as part of the Smithsonian Automotive Collection, which also consists of iconic vehicles such as the original 1984 Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager, a 1965 Ford Mustang, and a Bantam Jeep Prototype.

Even though the GM EV-1 program was cancelled, it was still very successful. Drivers were satisfied with their vehicles, and it led to the development of other electrified vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Volt (both of which are available nationwide, and can be purchased by consumers). What do you think of the GM EV-1? Have you ever driven and/or leased one, or do you know someone who has, and you were a passenger? Let us know in the comments down below!