Monday, September 10, 2007

Worst Cars Ever: TIME and Dan Neil Trash EV1

Along with a host of the filthy, the ugly and the dangerous, Time and Dan Neil declare the EV1 one of the 50 worst cars ever. Had they wanted to include a crappy electric car, they had plenty to choose from. But no, they picked what might have been the best electric car ever, and said even it sucked.

Dan Neil, the LA Times writer who naively blames consumers for the lack of electric cars in the market in the film Who Killed the Electric Car?, knows better now. He knows we need to move toward plug-in cars, and he knows the "perfect" electric car won't drop down from heaven one day. Had the EV1s been sold to consumers rather than leased, confiscated, and destroyed, they'd be very in demand.

If we are very lucky, some company will come out with a car with the decade-old EV1 specs considered unmarketable in this peculiar smackdown - 140 mile range without gasoline, miata-sized, fast. Does anyone out there truly believe this car couldn't sell for $50,000 or more now?


Tony Belding said...

First I'll point out that the Ford Model T was on the list, and so were some cars who's main failing seems to be that they were ahead of their time, such as the Dymaxion or the Chrysler/Desoto Airflow. In that sense the EV1 is in pretty good company.

Some of the other cars on the list were put there for pretty quirky reasons. I mean. . . Sure the Delorean DMC-12 was a commercial failure, but wouldn't you love to have one? Likewise the "Rambo Lambo" LM002 is on the list not because it was anything less than a fantastic vehicle, but rather because authors didn't like the sort of people who bought them (rich Arabs). The Edsel is listed, of course, but the authors admit it wasn't really an awful car, but more a victim of excessive pre-release hype.

Getting back to the EV1. . . GM produced about 1,100 of them and only leased out around 800. That was a result of advertising design to scare people away and a lease procedure that made the car fiendishly difficult to actually get. EV proponents argue that GM could probably have sold ten times that many if they'd promoted it wholeheartedly.

They're probably right. And there's the rub. GM's business model doesn't call for selling 8,000 of anything. They're in business to sell 100,000+ of something, and that just wasn't in the cards. It wasn't going to happen with the EV1.

Marc Geller said...

Quickly trying to get production numbers, I find the following low volume GM vehicles. Clearly GM could have decided to do EV1s without mass marketing it. Sure would have helped with their image.
Annual production:
Corvette: 35,000
SSR: 12,000
Hummer h3: 35,000

Tony Belding said...

Marc, I think your numbers just confirm what I was saying. If the Corvette and H3 are each selling 35,000 per year, then in three years they are hitting GM's 100,000+ unit target with those models.

As for the SSR. . . Well, it also made the list of 50 worst cars, right along with the EV1. Only about 24,000 units were sold, and it was cancelled after only three years. It was a flop. And yet, even that is a huge volume compared to the EV1.

altfuels said...

tony belding --

By saying "EV proponents argue that GM could probably have sold ten times that many if they'd promoted it wholeheartedly," you're putting words in our mouths; many of us think that it would have been a lot more than tenfold, and indeed enough to make it worth even GM's while. The problem is, we'll never know, because GM wouldn't even build enough for any economies of scale to start kicking in (EV1s were about as rare as Lamborghinis in the two model years they were built), in order to create a foundation on which to build. And look at how few Priuses were sold in the first couple of model years, vs. how many are sold each year these days; again, even a slow start can become a foundation for a much greater future success, provided the company makes a commitment.

And, by the way, the 1100 - 800 = 300 EV1s didn't just sit on lots unwanted until they were hauled away to the crusher; 800 were leased individually in the Southwest, and 300 were leased to utility companies in the Southeast, kept in-house for testing and demos, etc. GM leased every EV1 they made available for lease; and, of course, they refused to sell a single one (despite Bob Lutz's false assertion in an NPR interview in June that GM tried, and were unable, to sell EV1s before they went to lease-only).

Anonymous said...

If you think Dan Neil was bad, take a look at Richard Porter's Crap Cars on, as the EV1 makes his top 50 list as well.

Tony Belding said...

Okay, fair criticism. Maybe I should have been more clear. . . . I personally think GM could have sold ten times as many EV1s if they'd really tried. 8,000 units placed would have been attainable. I don't think 80,000 would have been attainable.

Some people may see it differently, some may think they could have moved 100,000+ EV1s. We'll never know, but I just can't see how. It was a time when gasoline was cheap and plentiful, the US wasn't entangled in the Middle East to the extent we are now, Hugo Chavez hadn't come out against the US, and peak oil and global warming were fringe issues that most people weren't yet aware of.

On top of that, the EV1 didn't seem to fit any established automotive niche. It was a two-seater, but it wasn't really a sports car. It looked odd. It was highway-capable, but you could go maybe 100 miles and then it would lay down and die. Even though some people -- perhaps many people -- could live with its limitations, what was their incentive to do so?

I really think CARB and their ZEV Mandate pushed cars like the EV1 into existence at the wrong time, when the marketplace and the technology weren't quite ready. In so doing, they set up the EV1 for failure.

altfuels said...

On the other, other hand, don't forget that GM (and its contractors, like AeroVironment under the late, great Paul MacCready) built the Impact show car, and promised to bring it to market, before the ZEV mandate was in place. Apparently GM, or at least their top brass at the time, thought there was enough environmental interest and concern about oil dependence among consumers to support such a vehicle; the Impact gave an impetus to the ZEV mandate, not the other way around. Again, using the Prius as an example, it got started in the U.S. while gas prices were still comparatively low; this set up Toyota for the enviable position it occupies today, based on that company's willingness to lead demand, not follow it. Of course, Toyota also killed the RAV4-EV, which was a child of the ZEV mandate, so their hands aren't entirely clean either; but if GM had been willing to stick to the commitment made in 1990 (I don't consider a 500-car-at-a-time production schedule to be "bring[ing] it to market") then they would own that leadership position, instead of scrambling to develop the Volt a decade and a half later. In addition, their continuing spin against the EV1 (see my detailed dissection of their response to "Who Killed the Electric Car?"), down through Bob Lutz's false statement that I mentioned above, undermines the credibility of their Volt promises.

Happy September 11th.

Tony Belding said...

You've got some good points there. The EV1 did give GM a technological lead in electric powertrains -- a lead they proceeded to squander. The EV1 could have given GM a leading reputation as an eco-friendly company -- another opportunity squandered. This is easier to see in hindsight, given the successful example of the Prius.

Yet that's all a matter of speculation. What happened is what happened. Even if GM had stuck with it, the result is more that the EV1 might have led to some great electric cars. . . not so much that it was one, itself.

Anonymous said...

Check into a company called TESLA MOTERS. Check into another company called VENTURE MOTORS. The EV1 wasen't the only game in town. They even have fully electric cars that are partially solar powered now. The money you save in gas in 2-3 years will pay for the car. After you pay it off with the money that you would have been spending on gas you can put the rest of the money STRAIGHT INTO YOUR POCKET. Check some of these Bad boys out on YouTube. THEY SCREAM! If you would rather have an SUV, truck, minivan, etc. than a hotrot, (which can shutdown a viper in the quarter mile BTW) they can convert your present vehicle over. THEY ENEN MAKE MOTORCYCLES!!!

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