An entire generation of American consumers view Elon Musk as the heroic pioneer of the electric automobile. But Musk and Tesla weren't first; they just emerged in an era of better battery technology — and made early adopters pay for it.
For decades, General Motors' decision to abandon its fledgling EV1 project has been vilified and ridiculed by environmentalists who continue to view the small electric car as the symbol of an automotive path not taken.
The EV1 was an experiment, conducted in public, that left a scar on those who mistakenly believed that GM might lead an environmental revolution. It's one of the reasons consumers may feel skeptical — even cynical — about GM's latest aspirations for electric propulsion.
Where would the climate be today, and where would automotive engineering be today, had GM stuck with its breakthrough consumer offering? Would Tesla — a company with a market cap now several times that of GM — even have a reason to exist?
Historians are free to argue about what might have been. But the fundamental realities that doomed the EV1 experiment still plague electric vehicles today.
EVs continue to be held back by the energy densities available in their battery packs. It was true with the EV1's original lead-acid pack, and it remains true with today's more efficient lithium ion cells. Anxieties about range and limited charging infrastructure hamper sales to a still-wary public.