One man's perspective on EVs past and future

The nagging suspicion that electric vehicles won't succeed in America is rooted in the memory of the EV1.

GM created the EV1 as the industry's first serious battery-powered car in 1996, and simply put, it was a flop. A billion-dollar flop. It was too expensive, impractical, limited in range and irrelevant.

So why should Nissan, Tesla, Toyota, Ford and GM bother trying again in 2010?

"Things are different today," says Sean McNamara. "Completely different."

As a product manager at GM back in the 1990s, McNamara was assigned to the EV1 launch. Today, he works at Nissan North America -- but he's not participating in Nissan's upcoming Leaf launch. McNamara is regional product manager for Infiniti, currently focused on the new-generation Infiniti QX56 SUV. Different product, different consumer, different brand.

But he's watching his Nissan colleagues prepare the Leaf for commercial sale this year with a slight sense of déjà vu. But he has no doubts about it.

"The technology is so much better today," he says. "We were using lead-acid batteries on the EV1." (They weighed in at 3,000 pounds.)

But there's a more significant difference today, he points out -- consumer attitude.

"We've been through a lot since then as a society," he says. "Today, people really are looking for an electric vehicle."