CHAPTER 6: Farewell to the EV1
GM built the last EV1 in 1999. By 2003, terms for the last remaining leases were expiring, and GM demanded that customers give the cars back. Some of them were reluctant, begging to buy the cars, but GM turned them down.
Chelsea Sexton, EV1 sales specialist: "When they were leased, we didn't promise customers they'd be able to buy the car they had, but we did, as the corporate line, condition them to expect this is going to continue. We were all-in."
Ken Stewart: "Our plan completely was, 'We're not taking your car from you, but when the lease is up, we're not going to offer any lease extension. We'll just take the car back.' "
Coppola was reportedly so attached to the EV1 that he was reluctant to give it up when his lease expired. Stewart arranged a visit with Coppola at his sprawling Napa Valley estate to retrieve the car.
Ken Stewart: "He invited me to dinner. We talked cars and drank wine. It was like a scene of a movie.
"Before our dinner, he said, 'Let's go for a ride.' The two of us were in his car driving around Napa Valley. He was so enthusiastic about the car, and he kept pointing out things. He said, 'Next time you do a car, do this differently, make this bigger, change this, it really could use that.' He was wonderful and very optimistic.
"While I was having dinner, the team was loading up the flatbed and taking his car home.
"The whole evening was delightful, but I also felt like a repo man because I got the car. He knew I was coming to get the car, but he didn't know that we were backing up the flatbed while I was having another glass of wine. Nobody was stealing anything because he saw us drive away, but it was just kind of a funny way that it all came about."
Coppola's reps could not be reached for comment.
With efforts by EV1 enthusiasts to save the car drawing to a close, they staged an event that was both a last-gasp effort and a fond farewell.
On July 24, 2003, they gathered at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place of silver-screen legends such as Judy Garland and Rudolph Valentino. A bagpiper led a procession that included a gleaming white hearse and approximately two dozen EV1s, silent as they rolled past the tombstones.
While it started as a public relations stunt, the funeral proved heartfelt. Actors, engineers, politicians and enthusiasts all eulogized a car that captured their imaginations and provided a viable path toward a sustainable future. Or so they thought. Among their remarks during the service:
Rabbi Brian Mayer: "Today there is a feeling of loss as we unplug the EV1. ... It is difficult to know what to say at a time like this. To be honest with you, I consulted my rabbi's manual, and there was absolutely nothing in it for the burial of a car."
Ed Begley Jr., actor: "I'm here to tell you what the detractors and critics are saying is true — the electric car is not for everybody. Given the limited range, it can only meet the needs of 90 percent of the population."
Ellen Crawford, actress: "The EV1 was not a toy; it was a revelation."
Tom Gage, CEO, AC Propulsion: "We should be willing to fight for what's great in this country and willing to fight here against its enemies. Unfortunately, one of those enemies is us. We are addicted to gasoline in this country."
Eric Garcetti, then-Los Angeles city councilman and now mayor: "GM will have to pry it out of my charger's cold, dead hands."
Wally Rippel, research engineer, AeroVironment: "There are people within General Motors who have worked very, very hard, who have made this a reality, and they've done good work. They need to be remembered. I sometimes feel sorry for them that they'll be identified by society with the company which has canceled this."
Paul MacCready, founder, AeroVironment: "Batteries have zoomed ahead, and batteries for computers and cellphones are up to where they're six times better than the lead-acid cells we're using. ... It's strange no car company is turning out — or even doing research on — battery-powered cars now. There's so much in this field with lithium batteries that soon we'll show them the cars that go long distances."
Eric Garcetti: "We couldn't get the car companies to sell us what we wanted as a city and what you wanted as our constituents. ... Redouble your efforts so that we know this death is not in vain, and we will always remember you, EV1."