The Rise of the Electric Car: From GM’s EV1 to Now

Twenty two years ago, General Motors unveiled its all-electric car, the EV1, at the Los Angeles Auto Show on January 4, 1996. What better time to look back at how far the technology has come — and consider whether we are finally on the brink of acceptance on a worldwide scale.

The first-generation EV1 had a 16.5kWh battery pack good for 60 miles per charge. It’s list price was $33,995, but was only available to lease, not buy. Between 1996 and 1999, GM built 1,117 EV1 vehicles. But, by 2003 GM pulled the plug on EV1s, no longer offering them for lease and destroying any that remained.

In some respects, the EV1 was ahead of its time. The car, in spite of its 1996 creation date and futuristic 1990s design, was remarkably comparable to the electric cars released in the early 2010s. Later models of the EV1 could accelerate from 0-60 in about 9 seconds and go up to 90 miles per charge, roughly the same as the first-generation 2011 Nissan Leaf. The late 1990s and early 2000s also saw the electric Honda EV Plus (available only via a lease), which paved the way for the first Insight hybrid.

2017 marked another big milestone for electric cars as Tesla and GM went head-to-head to bring the first mass-market electric car to the public in volume. Previously known for electric vehicles with a six-figure price tag and wow factor, Tesla rolled out the Model 3, starting at $35,000. GM marked its commitment to electric vehicles with the introduction of the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Each vehicle has a range of approximately 200 miles per charge.

Fast forward to present day and nearly all major automakers are planning to electrify their fleets, with many scheduled to introduce multiple EVs by the early 2020s. Fewer automakers will introduce new hybrids.

Bloomberg quoted an executive at research firm LMC Automotive as saying,

How long have we been talking about EVs? We’re now finally seeing them in numbers, but the sales numbers are not taking over the industry by any means.

To date, the vast majority of car shoppers have preferred fossil fuels to electric. The reasons range. Some find gas and diesel easier on their wallets. Others prefer the purr of an engine. For many, there’s comfort in the way things have always been. As nationwide charging infrastructure takes shape and countries begin the process of phasing out gas and diesel, widespread EV domination is all but inevitable.

There’s no denying that electric cars are gaining momentum.

Will 2018 be the tipping point for mainstream adoption of EVs?


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