The profit and loss entries in General Motors' corporate ledger for the EV1 don't lie: GM lost money — a lot of it — on every one of the 1,117 EV1s leased to customers.
But those numbers don't tell the whole EV1 story.
There's no entry in the books that places a monetary value on what GM learned designing, engineering, testing and building the EV1 or how the experience paid — still pays — dividends. But if you speak with the engineers who worked on the EV1 and experts who know about product development, they'll tell you it was a gold mine for GM.
Ken Baker, now retired in Arizona, was the program manager. He told me that throughout the development of the EV1, the automaker focused on maximizing energy efficiency on every single part of the car, a strategy GM had never before adopted in the creation of a production car. No component was taken off GM's parts shelf and installed without being lightweighted, downsized or made more energy-efficient. That even included the EV1's radio.