Why was it that General Motors launched the pioneering EV1 electric car 25 years ago? More than the discussion of the car's design or speed, or its range or comfort, that question of "why" tends to dominate the lingering fascination with the 1990s project.
Was it for GM to be ahead of the curve on what threatened to be a ruthlessly demanding new era of zero-emission regulations? Was it a conspiracy by the internal combustion engine-making giant to show environmental activists that "Sure, we can make you an EV, but you won't want to buy it"?
I submit a different explanation.
GM created the EV1 because it could. And GM spent a billion 1990 dollars to do it because it could do that, too.
The EV1 was GM's statement of "This is us."
Recall that the early 1990s had seen mighty GM teeter into financial straits. Its balance sheet was looking a little dodgy, and hand-wringing ensued in Detroit, on Wall Street and on Main Street.
And yet GM's house of technology was in order. Its vaults were stuffed with patents, and its engineering centers were packed with industry leaders, any one of them up for the challenge of a moonshot.
First among those leaders — that business unit called Delco.
Rewind this movie to 25 years ago, and you will find GM's strategic thinkers contemplating the future role of the automaker's in-house parts-making operations. GM's component businesses constituted the single biggest original equipment supplier in the world in the mid-1990s. Delco Electronics and the alternator-producing subsidiary Delco Remy were technology bulls, seemingly capable of anything.