General Motors Corp.Auburn Hills, Mich.

EV1 electric vehicle

In California and Arizona, a handful of consumers are gleefully driving past filling stations. The cars they drive spew no fumes and guzzle no gas. These drivers are behind the wheel of the EV1 two-seat coupe from General Motors Corp., the first mass-production electric vehicle in the U.S. Six years after unveiling plans for an electric vehicle and abundant technology changes later, the EV1 gives U.S. consumers the first sampling of an electric vehicle by design, not an altered conventional car. Jim Ellis, platform director for engineering for General Motors Advanced Technology Vehicles, says the EV1 was "an engineer's dream" because of the numerous technical challenges that had to be overcome to create this rolling package of innovation:

  • A three-phase, alternating-current, 137-horsepower induction motor provides the torque that turns the wheels, accelerating the coupe to 60 miles per hour in nine seconds and a top speed of 80 mph.
  • Twenty-six lead-acid recyclable batteries feed a 312-volt electrical system. Lightweight, plastic-coated paddles inserted into a charge port recharge batteries in just three hours (useful range is 70 to 90 miles). The system makes no direct electrical connections, thus, says GM, it provides safe use in all weather conditions.
  • An all-aluminum recyclable structure reduces the entire EV1's body mass to just 1,800 pounds, yet meets crash-test standards.
  • Power-assisted brakes are electrically applied, and regenerative braking uses the vehicle's kinetic energy to recharge batteries.
  • Power steering is energized by an electrical power-steering pump that's used only when needed, which cuts power demand by 65% compared with a hydraulic system.
  • A heat pump uses environmentally friendly R134a refrigerant and a variable-speed compressor to provide both heating and cooling at one-third the energy requirements of a conventional heat pump. The EV1 also preconditions the interior before use, reducing in-use demand.
GM rapidly integrated many of its own technologies and those of suppliers -- including Delco Electronics Corp., Kokomo, Ind., and Delphi Chassis Systems, Pontiac, Mich. -- and is now in position to get the first real-use consumer feedback on electric vehicles. "When we did the EV1 we weren't looking at 1996 -- we were looking at 2010 and 2020," says Ellis. "Where are we going down the road, and how are we going to get there?" He compares this first electric vehicle to microwave ovens, computers, and television, which gradually evolved into staples of U.S. culture. "Technology is growing so fast today that you've got to be a futurist to decide where it's going." Many of the EV1's technologies should eventually find demand in more conventional and hybrid vehicles. "As we start seeing more pressure on fuel prices in the future or shortages of fuel, depending on what timeframe we're talking about, there'll be a lot more interest in very high-efficiency systems," says Ellis. Skeptics may brush off the EV1 as a contrivance to satisfy possible government mandates down the road, but one need only look in the EV1's rearview mirror, and see the competitors rushing with their EV entries, to realize there is finally a small but growing electric-vehicle market in the U.S. For now GM is the sole participant and indisputable leader.
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