General Motors used the Los Angeles Auto Show on Jan. 4, 1996, to introduce to the world one of the most notable cars ever produced: the EV1.
The automaker invested about $1 billion into the EV1 program as part of efforts to meet California’s zero-emissions requirements.
The electric car was available only at Saturn dealers in California, Arizona and Georgia. And customers could only lease it for $399 to $549 per month from 1996 through 2001.
GM leased about 800 of the 1,117 EV1s it produced.
In the end, the high cost of the vehicle and low overall consumer acceptance, despite some passionate fans, proved the EV1’s downfall.
Americans were also more enamored with crossovers, pickups and SUVs at the time.
Had the cars stayed on the road, GM would have been required to provide replacement parts for 10 years at a sizable expense.
For example, replacing the nickel-metal hydride battery would have cost $30,000, GM said.
Still, some EV1 customers, including actor Danny DeVito, loved the car and were upset when GM canceled the program.
One lessee registered his disappointment as the end of his lease neared in 2002, telling Automotive News: “It’s going to be like having a part of myself ripped off.”
After the EV1s were reclaimed by GM in 2003, most of them were crushed. Some avoided destruction, though, and ended up on college campuses for research. The Smithsonian Institution also has one on display.
The car even spawned a documentary in 2006, Who Killed The Electric Car?
GM claimed the EV1 program also helped advance advance technology such as electrohydraulic power steering, and braking systems.
The 2008-09 recession and government prodding have prompted the auto industry to re-emphasize alternative-fuel vehicles. One EV startup, Tesla Motors Inc., has become a darling of investors with a market value of nearly $29 billion.
Today, GM markets the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and has a new EV in the works, dubbed the Bolt, with a range of about 200 miles on a single charge.
When GM unveiled plans for the Bolt a year ago in Detroit, GM global product chief Mark Reuss touched on the legacy of the EV1.
“If you are a slave to monthly sales, you will give up your long-term vision of what you think the future will be,” Reuss told Automotive News in January 2015. “And we did that [with the EV1]. We had the first electric car. And we didn’t follow it up. Think of where we would be today if we hadn’t done that. And I remind people who weren’t in the company or are younger. I say, we are not going to make the mistake again.”