May 26, 2024


Automotive pure lust

1997 GM EV1 Proves to Be the Start of Something Big

From the March 1997 issue of Car and Driver.

Dear Diary,

The EV1 arrived today. That stands for “Electric Vehicle 1.” You know, you plug it in, off it goes. We have it for four days.


To test the straight-line performance of the EV1, we truck it to a desert test site 80 miles north of L.A. Well, it might go that far on its own power, but then we’d have to recharge it to fairly assess its performance three hours-if we had a 220-volt 6.6-kilowatt GM MagneCharge station, which we don’t—or 14 hours if we could locate a plain 01′ standard 110-volt outlet to plug in the on-board 1.2-kilowatt charger.

To start the EV1, we simply tap in a five-digit code on a keypad located on the console-the same code opens the doors—and then press “RUN,” activating the warning lights and the self-check sequence. We move the gearshift into drive and put our foot to the accelerator. The road is damp, and there’s some wheelspin, but the 0-to-60 time of 8.4 seconds confirms GM’s boast of “under nine seconds,” and the quarter-mile time of 16.7 seconds at 79 mph seems reasonable.

Our testing has put only 12 miles on the odometer, but already the charge indicator tells us we’ve used up half the power supply. And the range predictor says we have just 20-some miles left in the battery bank. That’s because we’ve driven the EV1 hard-two full-throttle acceleration tests and the standard 30-to-50-mph, 50-to-70, and 5-to-60 runs-and the gauge bases its range estimations on the most recent driving behavior. We reload the EV1 onto the flatbed, and back at our L.A. office, we plug it into a borrowed MagneCharge station. It takes exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes to recharge it fully.

We leave the office at 5:30 p.m. for the 4.9-mile freeway jaunt home. The EV1 has more than enough performance to merge and spar with manic Angeleno drivers, and its top speed of 80 mph is adequate. On arrival at home, the range meter reads 27 miles, the gauge declares we’ve used a 10th of the power supply, and the EV1 requires three hours of charging to top off the batteries using the small 110-volt charging unit it carries in its narrow-but deep trunk. This may be a surprise, but it takes more time to charge the batteries from 80 to 100 percent than it does to charge them up from 20 percent to 40 percent. Either way, it’s a nice feeling to fill up with a plug rather than having to reach for cash at a gas station.


Our plan is to drive the EV1 only to work and home, which is the whole point of this electric commuter car. It handles the five-mile distance without a hitch—and we’ve turned on the headlights, the wipers, and the radio during the trip. The weather is cool, so we don’t need the air conditioning. Despite our good-citizen behavior, the car is still predicting ranges based on the hard driving we did during testing. So even when it’s fully charged, the gauge tells us we have only 25 or so miles left.

HIGHS: A quiet, smooth-running, zero-polluting conversation starter.

The EV1 feels remarkably normal to drive, with a good ride if you discount some corkscrewing motions on certain surfaces. It steers okay despite its skinny Michelins, and because of its 3000-pound weight, there’s a fair bit of body roll. Best of all is the constant torque, and we soon come to appreciate the precise accelerator pedal and gearless operation.


A houseguest arrives, and now there are three of us, so we don’t drive the electric car today—it seats only two.

John B. CarnettGetty Images


We set off westward toward beautiful downtown San Dimas for some real range testing. It’s early, and the car has quite a bit of condensation inside and out, so we have to use the electric defogging facility on the windshield, which heats a metallic film on the inside to tangibly warm temperatures. It removes the mist slowly and does nothing to clear the droplets formed by wiping the surface with one’s hand. This system, along with the A/C, the radio, and the other in-cabin devices, is powered by an auxiliary 12-volt source that does not operate off the 26 traction batteries but can be recharged from the main battery pack by pressing a button in the cabin.

Fully charged, the range gauge promises only 26 miles, which is at least 20 miles short of our destination; a company in San Dimas called AC Propulsion. It will be our starting point in a test of range and elevation we’re conducting in conjunction with AC Propulsion.

John B. CarnettGetty Images

Blowing out Interstate 10 with the cruise control locked on 55 mph, the range predictor has decided to revise its estimate. After driving 11 miles, it now says we have 30 more miles. After we’ve gone 20 miles, it promises 31 more. When we’ve driven 30 miles, it promises another 24.

We have stopped using full throttle. A button on the gear selector engages either a coast-down mode, which regenerates power whenever you lift off the accelerator, or a freewheeling mode that allows you to coast down hills without using battery power. In an EV, you do not practice late braking when stopping. Instead, you push the coast-down button, lift off early, and ease up to the stop, gears whizzing with reverse torque as the motor cranks volts to the batteries. GM claims a recovery rate of 20 percent with such regenerative braking.

LOWS: Limited legs, charge time, the threat of being stranded.

GM’s choice of user-friendly feedback systems makes meticulous energy-consumption testing extremely difficult. Some EV manufacturers fit amp-hour gauges for consumption and regenerated current and then reconcile the two to predict the number of amp hours left. The EV1’s fuel-gauge-style bar graph and “intelligent” range calculator are not as literal.

We are greeted at AC Propulsion by Alan Cocconi, who designed the first propulsion system for the GM Impact, a concept electric car, and who now builds EVs of ills own. His T Zero, a topless roadster based on the Sportech sports car from Piontek Engineering in Canton, Michigan, ran 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds in a recent test. This will be our control car as we ascend Mount Baldy for the range and elevation test.

But first we have to charge up again. The recharger has an LED display that estimates the time required for a charge in this case, 3 hours and 45 minutes, so we head out for breakfast. On our return two hours later, the car is 97 percent charged, and the recharger wants another 30 minutes to finish the job. We can’t wait. Based on our thrifty journey from home, the conservative range gauge now promises 43 miles. The route from AC Propulsion’s offices to the foothills of Mount Baldy is about three miles. Then the road heads up the mountain, and after 10 miles of travel, the EV1 tells us we have power for another 22 miles.

When we’ve driven 16.7 miles, the gauge announces that we have only two miles’ worth of power left. Moments later, the display says we have only one mile, and then it blanks out. We’re driving up steep grades and negotiating tight switchbacks at this point, yet the EV1, which suffers no power loss to thin air at altitude, still has plenty of torque. But it’s working hard, and before we’ve driven a total of 20 miles, a “Battery Life” light comes on with an accompanying gong tone. This signifies that the battery pack is 85 percent discharged. Extracting more juice will shorten the life of the batteries. We press on. Then a “Reduced Performance” warning light comes on.

John B. CarnettGetty Images

Shortly after that, the car begins slowing as the controller reduces power to protect the battery pack from damage. When the speed slows to 15 mph, we call it a day. We’ve covered 22.5 miles and climbed 5500 feet. The EV1 is now beyond a range that is prudent, and it’s going slower than most of the other vehicles on the road. Cocconi’s T Zero, which does not have airbags, A/C, and other amenities, still has plenty of beans. We turn around and regen down the mountain for all we’re worth, picking up two segments on the “fuel gauge” and inheriting a six-mile range prediction by the time we get back to the shop to plug in. Cocconi says that this 45-mile round trip—up the mountain and back-is a realistic range prediction for an electric vehicle. In our case, we got the 45 miles and another 10 on the display gauge, and we could probably add a few more because of the incomplete charge. So a range of about 60 miles looks like a good bet for the real world.

Of course, if the EV1 is driven on a free-flowing highway at a steady, moderate speed (like our drive to San Dimas), it can get better than 70 miles. But EVs are intended for use in Southern California, and that means stop-and-go traffic, often in weather that demands the use of the efficient but electrically powered heat-pump air conditioner. Probably wiser to figure on a round trip of about 50 miles.

Ricardo DeAratanhaGetty Images

Add congested traffic or a detour to either 25-mile leg, and you could be cutting it close. Having a recharger waiting at both ends of the commute would be a big help, but that sort of infrastructure is still some way off, even though there are currently more recharging stations (about 50) in the L.A. and Palm Springs areas than there are EVs. Still, we think recharging time is as important as limited range, and the systems are not yet standardized for all EVs. GM has opted for the inductive method, using a stand-alone station with a plastic paddle that slips into a charging slot on the car, and has concluded an arrangement with the local power company to install and maintain these rechargers. EV1 customers lease the recharger at a cost of about $55 a month and pay an installation fee of up to $1000. The system is safe and simple, but it’s not that swift. The cost of the electrical charge is said to work out to 1.5 cents per mile driven.

THE VERDICT: A vehicle that makes sense for very few people.

Other electric-car makers are going with on-board conductive recharging systems, so there’s a VHS-versus-Beta situation brewing. We can’t predict how it will pan out, but we can observe that the EV1 has limited appeal right now. It is quiet, it performs well, and it emits no pollution, but the range problems, the recharging time, and the high purchase cost (see sidebar) are obstacles that will have to be overlooked or overcome before the EV1 presents a viable alternative to gas-powered cars. Still, it’s a start.



1997 General Motors EV1

front-motor, front-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe


induction AC, 137 hp, 110 lb-ft; 16.5-kWh lead-acid battery pack

1-speed direct drive

Suspension (F/R): control arms/live axle
Brakes (F/R): 9.6-in disc/8.9-in drum
Tires: Michelin Proxima RR, 175/65R-15

Wheelbase: 98.9 in
Length: 169.7 in
Width: 69.5 in
Height: 50.5 in
Passenger volume: 50 ft3  
Trunk volume: 10 ft3
Curb weight: 3000 lb

60 mph: 8.4 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.5 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.2 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.9 sec
1/4 mile: 16.7 sec @ 79 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 80 mph

Observed range: 60 mi

City range: 70 mi
Highway range: 90 mi

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