I was the proud driver of an EV 1 the first day they were made available back in 1996. It was the best car ever. It drove like a dream – it was fast, smooth, quiet, and, most importantly to me, CLEAN. The Generation 2 EV1 got over 100 miles per charge, so I didn’t need a second car. On the rare occasion I drove over 100 miles in a day, I drove my husband’s car, which I hated doing because it …. used gasoline. AND it was slower than my EV, and the combustion engine was noisy and made the car vibrate. After driving an EV1, driving a gas car was a step backwards.
The first year I had the EV1, I was always getting home late, because when it was parked it on the street while I did errands, I always came back to a bunch of folks staring at it in wonder, wanting to discuss it – how fast and how far it went, how much it cost, where I plugged it in, did I really not have to go to gas stations anymore?
People WANTED to like this car. They WANTED it to be right for them, but a lot of them were scared. They were so used to the convenience of having a gas station every mile that they’d forgotten about the inconvenience of smog and noise pollution, turbulent gas prices, US alliances with dictators from oil nations, and yes, War. GM says there wasn’t a demand for the EV1, but this concern about the range of an electric car was never addressed in its advertising. GM didn’t remind us that the average American drives less than 30 miles per day, so there are many, many folks, especially those in a 2 car family, whose lifestyle is perfect for an EV. They didn’t tell us that an electric engine has only one moving part so it was less likely to break down. They didn’t explain that the maintenance on an EV is minimal – there are no oil, water or filter changes. They didn’t remind us that this technology really isnt that strange and new – that in 1899 90% of all New York City taxicabs were electric. There was just this dumb commercial with all these appliances coming out into the street to greet the car as it drove by – not a single human being in the entire ad. How is that supposed to make someone feel comfortable investing in what is often their biggest purchase besides a home? All it did was contribute to the impression that the EV1 was a “car of the future”, instead of a car that was available NOW. That was the second most common comment I got – "Wow, I didn’t know you could get one". The car was leased through Saturn dealerships – why didn’t GM promote the car the way they promoted Saturns, with real life customers talking about how happy they were with their car? BUT, despite the horrible job that GM did in promoting the car, there was a waiting list of thousands to lease one. And GM refused to make any more cars.
The airwaves are saturated with gasoline car ads. Americans didn’t just jump into SUVs because they appeared on the car lots. They had to be wooed into them with millions of dollars of advertising on television, in magazines and on billboards, just like any new product. In fact, it wasnt easy to get Americans out of their carriages and into cars in the first place. In 1919, an army major named Dwight Eisenhower led a convoy of gas vehicles across the United States in a campaign to show Americans the potential of the internal combustion gasoline engine. GM says there wasn’t enough interest in the EV1 –but they never gave the car a chance, they never gave American drivers a chance.
Ironically, a lot has changed since that December day in 1996 when I first got my EV1. Scientists are more and more worried about the effects of global warming. Gasoline prices have doubled. We’ve gotten into another war in the Middle East that many say was to protect our oil interests. Over 1 billion citizens in China are getting off their bikes and into cars – gasoline cars, unfortunately. Air pollution is worse.
We need the technology of the EV1 now more than ever, yet GM is crushing these cars. They produced only 1000 EV1’s, and soon all of them will be gone, except for a handful for museums. I am honoured to have driven this magnificent car for 6 years, but I am so, so sorry that so many people weren’t able to and now, they never will.