I watched the docudrama Who Killed The Electric Car" on my flight last night. It was reasonably balanced in that they tried to blame everyone for the death of the EV1 and similar products of the time.
However, one little, nearly insignificant fact lead me to conclude that the driving (haha) cause behing the death of the EV1 was heavy handed government embodied by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
According to the documentary’s producers, GM had the electric car lined up and ready to go before the CARB enacted their Zero Emmissions Vehicle (ZEV) requirements. From here it’s simple economics. GM had made a substantial investment in the EV1 which I believe they intended to recoup eventually. They made this investment based on the expectation that GM would the the exclusive supplier of viable electric cars for quite a while, perhaps years. During that time, they could assume the dominant position in an area they expected to grow significantly.
Every business wants to be a monopoly in their field and GM likely would have raked in the cash having a monopoly on the electric car.
But, along come the clueless do-gooders at the CARB who drop an H-bomb on GM’s business plan by using the heavy hand of government to force competition in a nacent and untested market. Clearly, Ford, Honda and Toyota didn’t want to be in that market, just look at the half hearted retro fits they produced simply to comply with the law.
While there may have been notable demand for the EV1 and electric cars in general, GM and the other manyfacturers likely determined that the initial market could not sustain 4 or 5 major suppliers for years to come, especially since CARB’s fleet mandates were initially irrespective on consumer demand. Eventually CARB was sued into adding ‘consumer demand’ language to the rules, but that would have been moot from the beginning.
Let’s make it simple: In the crucial development of the market, 1 manufacturer could have made money selling 1000 electric cars, but 5 manufacturers would have lost their shirts each selling only 200.
Their responsibilies to their employees and shareholders (most just regular middle class people) prevented them from continuing a losing investment.
So, once again, government was not the solution, but rather the problem. I have little doubt that if the CARB hadn’t interfered, there would be 1,000’s upon 1,000’s of EV1 and other GM electric drivers on the market. Toyota and Honda would just about now be introducing some very compelling alternatives and Ford would be scambling to enter the market with something people would actually want. GM would be rewareded with heaps of praise and money for being the visionary who created and grew the market. And everybode wins.