The Elusive General Motors EV1 Review
The EV1 was among the very first electric cars to be available on the market, although you will be hard-pressed to find an EV1 that is still functioning today. The very first electric vehicle to be mass-produced by a major automaker, the EV1 was only available between 1996 and 2002. Leased to customers that would test the new car rather than sold, the EV1 was repossessed and destroyed in 2002 despite protests from their drivers. Only a handful of the groundbreaking vehicles remain—a rare car for only the rarest collector interested in this unique piece of history.
Most experts agree that the inspiration for the EV1 was the GM Sunraycer, a solar-powered electric car developed by students for the 1990 World Solar Challenge. Others say that the automaker decided to create a mass-produced electric car because its electric concept car, the 1990 Impact, had received an enthusiastic reception at the Los Angeles Auto Show. General Motors also partly decided to develop a mass production electric vehicle thanks to the California Air Resources Board decision that, at first, required automakers to create “zero emissions vehicles.” Regardless, GM saw a sudden potential for an electric car. In 1989, General Motors completed a three million dollar prototype and the battery-powered EV1 debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show the following year.
Part of the reason that the EV1 is so rare was its limited availability when new. You could only lease this vehicle, and, at first, it was just available in Los Angeles, California, and Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona. You could not buy the EV1 and had to find a designated Saturn dealership to have it serviced. Eventually, Georgia also received a limited number of this electric vehicle, and within California, the EV1 was available in Sacramento and San Francisco.
The EV1 was produced in two generations. The first generation began in 1996 and ran on 312V lead-acid batteries. This model had a range of between 70 and 100 miles and had a limited selection of colors. The second generation began in 1999 with a 312V 18.7 kilowatt-hour lead-acid battery pack, but, later in this generation, the power pack was replaced with a 343V 26.4 kilowatt-hour NiMH battery. This new battery pack increased the range to 100 to 140 miles. Although production of EV1 models ended in 1999, GM didn’t make an official decision to take the vehicles off the road until 2002.
If you can wrangle an EV1 from a museum or private collection, you will have your hands on an incredibly rare vehicle. Not only were they produced in limited numbers, with some estimates putting the total number at just 1,117 units, but the vast majority of the unique vehicles were destroyed in 2002. GM decided that the electric car was too expensive and counterproductive and scrapped the project. While there are several conspiracy theories regarding the cancellation, at the time the EV1 was very expensive with slim margins. However, instead of allowing the relatively contended lessees to purchase the vehicles, GM decided to repossess and crush the remaining models. Approximately sixty of the electric cars were donated or sold to museums although there are rumors that more exist in private hands. As a result, an intact EV1 is one of the rarest collectible cars from the 1990s.