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January 07, 2007


Paul Andrews

Hi Joel, Thanks for the informative report, but I'm curious what makes you or Chris Paine optimistic that GM will be a "hero" or come off better "next" time. After all, it was only 3 years ago that GM was CRUSHING perfectly good, running electric cars. Did anyone ask the GM reps there about THAT? (I hope you've seen the film but if not it would be great background for your next GM encounter.)

If I sound cynical it's because I see little rationale for hope until GM comes clean on the first time around. The only scintilla might be that GM as a company is in the toilet, and elec car sales might be one avenue back to profitability. But if they'd simply mothballed those hundreds of working electric cars and reintroduced the same model again (it worked fine, there was a burgeoning infrastructure, and it had an avid and dedicated following) they'd deserve more of my confidence anyway. As it is they owe a huge explanation and apology to the public.

Paul Andrews

PS. One other thing, thanks for disclosing your conflict of interest in this, letting the reader evaluate for him or herself.



I am an avid reader of your blog and was interested in today's GM announcement. I am curious how Tesla Motors can put a high performance EV on the road today with today's battery technology, yet GM is five years out from doing something that is inferior? The mind races to PR strategy rather than business strategy very fast. The mind also races to Al Gore's slide on the auto industry fuel economy comparisons around the world (U.S. is lowest). Did Tesla get some buzz at the auto show as well?

Fellix Kramer

Great summary. We're very hopeful that this is the start of a new plug-in car race in the auto industry. For more about where CalCars hopes this is all heading, see 16 Points about GM's PHEVs.

Matt Leonard

It's great to see a major automaker finally moving forward on what small companies have been proving possible for several years (see Energy CS, CalCars and HyMotion). But while the announcement is exciting, GM still isn't giving any solid timeline on WHEN we can see these cars on the road or HOW MANY cars are actually going to be produced - at best they say 3-4 years if the battery technology is available. There is a demand for plug-in hybrids NOW - there are hundreds of cities, counties, utility districts and fleets already placing "soft orders" for such vehicles. Such early-adopters of these vehicles would provide test markets for GM to refine the technology and build public confidence and interest in these cars.

I have to admit I'm a little concerned that they will use the announcement of these concept cars more to clean up their image than clean up their product line. There is a lot GM can do between now and when we may see these concept vehicles actually on the road.

We all know increasing fuel efficiency is the direction automakers need to head – so let’s get past the hype of a handful of concept vehicles and look at what they are doing with the rest of their fleet. Overall average fuel economy from the Big 6 is worse today that it was 10 years ago and GM is still heavily dependent on its gas guzzling truck lines. In addition to that they are still fighting tooth-and-nail against increasing fuel economy regulations, suing states that try to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and in December argued before the Supreme Court that carbon from tailpipe emissions was not even a pollutant. GM is still planning to expand their Hummer line to become 25% of their overall sales. Consumers still have limited options to find fuel-efficient cars that are affordable, well-built, and fun to drive. There are plenty of things automakers can do today to increase fuel economy – and I'm tired of being shown distracting concept cars that we won't see for 3-4 years if ever.

I've been working with the Freedom From Oil Campaign to make automakers honestly prioritize fuel economy and move beyond oil – check out what we do at http://www.FreedomFromOil.org

Marc Geller

We can be hopeful that GM's announcement will hasten the day we see cars with plugs from the majors. However, despite what GM is saying about batteries, there is too much evidence on the roads today (and the crushed examples from yesteryear) that this project needn't wait for Lithium to pan out to OEM specs. Between advance PbA and NiMH, an early rollout of thousands of vehicles could lay the foundation for a true mass commercialization of the Volt platform. Would not a few thousand 25mile electric range NiMH Volts reach early adopters and teach much GM and others will need to proceed?

Bryce Conacher

Hi Joel,

I agree with Paul above. Elon Musk has proven that he has the will, and since PayPal, the means to lead a category killer. The plug-in car race is over as far as I'm concerned. Elon recognizes that early adopters are willing to pay the price, in the case of the M1 Tesla, $90k. My interest comes from the carbon neutral angle, as our product, cleanairpass.com is in the retail emissions offset category. What are your thoughts on Mobile Emissions Reduction Credits {MERCs)? It would seem that consumers and/or auto manufacturers should be rewarded for reducing the carbon footprint of their cars. This would help address high upfront R&D. For consumers, managing the footprint annually could mean a revenue source (the MERC)during the daily weekly commute. Thoughts?

Dean Richardson

Hi Joel,
This is an interesting article,and I would agree with comments above that GM is in a dire spot, so the conditions are ripe for real sustained, and radical innovation.
I have to admit to a little surprise, though, that the company isn't also considering innovation on the business-process or financial front. Why not structure a production and financial deal so that customers can source vehicles now, but there are upgrades/ financial approaches to acquire improved battery technology later? It's a higher risk approach, but they get "early-adopter" market feedback sooner, plus they can put to rest accusations that they are engaging in a sophisticated form of "greenwashing".
Keep up the good work on the column!

Michael Stiber

Have you read the most recent Consumer Reports review of the Saturn Vue Hybrid? Short summary: It's a terrible car that gets worse gas mileage than some non-hybrids in the same class.

Makes you wonder if GM is trying to have it both ways: polish their image with concept cars that they never intend to really produce, while producing cars mostly designed to give hybrids a bad name.

Dave Eyraud

While I was very excited to see the GM Volt at the NAIAS in Detroit, I am still very disappointed with its stats. A battery range of 40 miles? Come on! We know that people see 100 miles to a charge using EV-95 batteries, which GM -=STUPIDLY=- sold to Chevron. Although, I am starting to see GM, the company, as an innocent victim of its evil and greedy shareholders who also own shares in the oil companies that these cars are trying to reduce our dependence on. As stated in a previous post, Tesla Motors is seeing 250 miles to a charge using their Li-Ion batteries. The truth is, GM really IS dangling this car in front of us to appease the angry masses stirred up by this video (Who Killed the Electric Car).

That said, I will buy/lease an electric car from the first company who makes one that a) runs on electric primarily (meaning I can disable the gas/alternate fuel portion simply by disconnecting a few wires) and b) uses an appropriate battery technology. I don't need to go far, but I would like more than 40 miles without assistance.

At the NAIAS, I focussed primarily on the economy of the cars I was viewing.... they ALL were shit. The only car that stands out in my mind, is the Mini Cooper S. It achieved over 20mpg city and over 30mpg highway. Bravo to a car company that actually tries to make something somewhat efficient. Most vehicles I saw were in the mid-high teens city, and low-mid twenties highway. Shit. Absolute shit.

I also found it amusing that USA is finally getting smart cars. They've been in the UK for 5 years and Canada for 3... congrats on catching up! ;)

And yes... GM owes everyone a huge apology, especially all the EV1 owners. There may not have been a lot of them, but seeing how much they worked to try to save the cars the y loved really pulled on my heartstrings, and I'm not even a car fan.

Dave Eyraud

The more I look at the car the more I want it. :) I seriously hope that GM can get a reasonably-priced production vehicle out to us little people soon.


Sounds like the same old spill to me. It's in the works to be out in 3 to 5 years. Or it's in the works to be out in 5 to 10 years..yada,yada,yada. I think us the buying public will need to turn to private small companys or indviduals that can modify the existing cars for us,NOW! So it won't be GM, Ford or any of the other greedy bast####"s that keep us forever attached as their money streams.

Rob M

The car companies are missing the point. They need a rude awakening.
But, the VOLT by GM is the closest I have seen that is what most people want.

I want an electric car that uses a slow charge, low RPM, very small DIESEL motor to charge the batteries. I also want control over weather the diesel engine charges the battery or I plug it in when I get home.
So, it would work like this. I drive to work and the batteries get low, the DIESEL engine kicks in and SUPPLEMENTS the batteries. When I get to my destination, the DIESEL KEEPS RUNNING until the batteries are charged back up. This would be very very easy on diesel fuel. GM`s 50 mpg should turn into 100 mpg.
Also, I am not interested in an electric car with $10,000.00 worth of electronics on it that cant be repaired by the dealer. They are still having problems repairing there fuel injected cars.

Cost of ownership MUST be low…
Keep it simple or don’t bother building it……….

*****GM you cant afford not to build this, get the ball rolling even faster or there will not be a GM in the future.

Build mine on a small truck platform...

R Williams

You stated
"That extends the range of the Volt to about 640 miles, giving the car the equivalent of about 50 miles per gallon of gasoline (or many times that, if you're using E85 or any other non-gasoline fuel)." I just wanted to tell you that on E85 it will use even more fuel than regular gasoline. It takes way more E85 mixture to equal gasoline.

I hope someone builds a car like this. I am searching now for someone just to do a convertion on car. It is just a shame GM just can't dig up the tooling for the EV and just make some more. No changes would be needed. Kind of like one company is doing the 69 Camreo. They just started making the same car again.



your both right, yes it takes more e85 to equel gasoline but a car that runs 85% ethanol is going to use WAY less GASOLINE than a car that runs 100% gas

Case in point a escape hybrid uses more gasoline than a escape hybrid that uses E85

Mr. Fox's Class


Hello, This is a 7th grade class studying in Shanghai, China. We recently viewed the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" We have been keeping up to date on developments with alternative energy sources and think it is a good idea to revive the electric car. A couple of questions:

When do you think electric cars will be mass produced and ready for the public to buy?

Do you think that GM is serious about creating a competitive electric car?

Why does it seem like GM is using inferior battery technology in their electric car?

In 20 years what do you think the ideal alternative energy car will be like? Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Electric, Hybrid, etc.?

If you have any info. or cool websites please reply.

Thank you,

Mr. Fox's class

Richard Kraus

GM has missed the boat. Toyota Prius is years ahead with drive train, electronics and battery technology. We have taxis in Vancouver with 400,000 miles on the orginal batteries with gas mileage at 55 miles per usgallon combined city/hwy. Aren't these the specs GM hopes to get in 5 to 10 years. To little to late. Imagine what Toyota will have by then!


GM continuously thinking of a way of improving their vehicles. The new Chevy Volt is another addition to its concept cars. The car looks good with its quality parts like brakes, GM wheels and other accessories. But then we still have to wait when this Volt be available in the market.


Thanks for the Volt report.

Just remember GM was the only Mfr. to respond to the CARB mandate .. the only company to create a total EV from the ground up... only to have CARB cave on the mandate.
The EV1 is the SR71 of automobiles. No company has come close to records it set.

The FORD Escape Hybrid is the best out there now. The little, over priced, under performing cars like the Prius aren't doing so good in colder climates like here in Pa.
A local TV station had a report on a local Prius that is getting only 26mpg in the colder 6 months of the year in the PGH area. I'm getting 23 mpg in my Buick Rendezvous. And speaking of reliability.. the Prius is one of the worst cars out there. A rental company in FL told me that they rented them for a little while.. they had so many come back on flat beds that they stopped renting them after only a few months. No wonder they have so many sitting on lots... $30K + for a little, over complicated, unreliable car dosesn't sound like a good deal to me.

This new VOLT concept is very interesting. I only drive 20 miles each way to work.. I would love to drive a all electric with the performance of the EV1. I rented a EV1 for two days in LA .. it was a fantastic car. The best ride I ever had.
A hydrogen fuel cell sounds great. I would love to be able to create the hydrogen at home and not have to send money to foreign oil companies.

Robert Ackerlind

project driveway is not going to get an affordable car soon. a real world selling gm would be an elfex cross over. eflex should use the safer nmhd. oh and the oil company owns the nmhd batteries so they will still be getting their revenues. keep it affordable and you'l have the next bug. oh and you'll save the air and our troops.

Sheryl Dawson

Hi Joel!

Hope GM comes through! I know many people, including myself, who refuse to buy a GM product because they killed the EV1 and sold the technology to an oil company via a round about way. They are seen by many consumers as totally "in bed" with the oil companies and there is a lot of distrust towards their corporation as a result. The best thing they could do for the ultimate survival of their company is start producing good electric vehicles. I agree with a previous post re: diesel or biodiesel fuel to charge the batteries - I imagine the engineers will have to work out weight etc. ratios first. The only comment I have about biodiesel is the food resources many seem to be planning to produce it [eg corn] but reclaimed sources [grease used by restaurants etc]and mixed at a plant - good idea. If GM does comes through [hopefully it is not a publicity stunt] they will likely enjoy a huge rebirth because of it. There are many unhappy citizens in the world that realize we are currently controlled by the oil companies including global politics + war for the control of the same. Perhaps electric vehicles will go a long way towards not only the most important issue -survival of our species but also world peace. And any corporation who has the guts to stand up to the oil companies will be rewarding, in my opinion. And oh, they should forget about Hydrogen - the public is not as dumb as some may think...

rob matthies

Can we, or even should we, wait for large corporations to turn concept cars into real products with batteries that aren't merely leased? Ralph Nader says 'not' in Who Killed the Electric Car. Nader knows how car companies operate: His book was, "Unsafe At Any Speed", required reading in a Michigan high school in the 1960's.

For those who'd rather not wait, here's something you may want to support, with your dollars, right now. (Or, are you just a fence-sitter?)


Comes down to trust. GM blew its credibility 20 years ago when they could have made 60-70 MPG cars but went back to making 15 MPG cars. Not to mention EV1.

I wouldn't trust them to make a gas powered vehicle so my interest in their electric vehicle is effectively: NIL.

It would be better for America, if GM simply got out of the car business and focused more on the tanks and military equipment they make, since theres no environmental standards for that equipment, and current US policy demands a lot of military hardware be at hand.


Doesn't it seem odd, that a company would waste so many precious resources to merely achieve 50 MPG when we had 50 MPG compact cars in the 80s?

50 MPG is not even worth talking about, its so incremental as to be idiotic.

This is technology inflation at its worst. Technology advances ignored for years and stifled (not invested in) so that we are ENCOURAGED to settle for outdated incremental low-tech junk, when much better has been, can be and will be done.

If GM wanted to sabotage the US market for electric cars *again* this would be the best thing to do it.

50 MPG Volt is a slap in the face to every American and to the US Govt who has had to put up with year after year complaints from GM re govt emissions regs and mileage standards.

Chris Crawford

The reason GM needs better batteries is because they need batteries which can do many more cycles than the batteries being used in the Tesla Roadster. Battery lifespan is measured mostly by cycles. The proposed Volt will need many more cycles because the batteries will be drained and charged about every 40 miles. Depending on how they setup the system, it could even be much less. The Tesla Roadster will be able to go 200+ miles on batteries, so won't need charged as frequently, thus the same amount of miles creates less need for charging, and less wear on the battery cycles (lifespan).


They need better batteries still? Hasn't anyone considered that GM sold the rights to the batteries that could finally propel an EV-1 to Texaco, who was bought out by Chevron? Maybe GM could corner the rights on the next reliable battery source and sell them (and us) to the oil companies again. I'm just a bit short of impressed that they can't put together a vehicle that is a more capable electric vehicle than a ten year old Solectria Force, a GM vehicle converted to battery electric only. I'm rooting for GM, but I expect to be buying from someone else. I don't think this vehicle will come to market until three or four smaller companies take away a sizable amount of their dwindling market share.

Marcia L.

It's kinda sad that the GM needs to kill its own creation - Electric Car. They ruined the Electric Car because the majority thinks that it won't really be the answer to lessen the pollution causing of petroleum car engines. Maybe not today but possibly tomorrow, we'll going to need to revive the creation and concept of the electric car.

suv and truck accessories

Sad to hear that electric cars are not selling. I think it is because of the hybrids. right? last year, am planning to buy an electric car, but upon reading this, il just have to stick with my truck. put some accessories from http://www.suvandtruckparts.com .

Rod Anderson

I think it's high time that people remembered that any company needs to make a profit to stay in business. GM killed the EV1 because there was no way anybody would pay the true cost to make the car profitable. GM spent nearly half a billion dollars in development cost to make 1105 cars, or about $450,000 each. They made the EV1 so they could learn about battery technology and electric propulsion and when they learned what they could it was no longer practical to keep the EV1 on the road. You can be sure that many of the lessons learned will be incorporated into the Volt when it goes into production, which GM is now saying should be sometime in the fall of 2010.

Many people have attached sinister motives to the automobile and oil companies, but it's all about pragmatic business decisions. The companies have an obligation to their stock holders and employees to stay viable and you can't do that by making $450,000 cars that lease for $5,000 or $6,000 per year (or even $10,000 per year, although only a relatively small number of people could afford to spend that much money for a car).

The reason we have been using gasoline or diesel fueled internal combustion automobiles for the last 100+ years is simply that the energy density per cubic foot (or per pound, if you prefer to measure it that way) is higher with petroleum fuel than any other source. If/when battery technology improves to the point that the overall cost of an electric car is competitive with one powered by gas - meaning the average consumer can afford to purchase and operate it - then GM and the rest of the auto companies will produce electric cars.

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