Saturday, March 19, 2016

Electric Vehicles From General Motors

I would like to think that information and education can be very important, that they can change people's minds and that changed minds can lead to changed behavior.

Stop me if you've heard this one: In the 1990's, California, dominated by Democratic legislators at the time, passed some laws, and one result of those laws was that if General Motors wanted to continue to do business in California they had to manufacture a certain number of plug-in electric cars. GM made their first electric car, the EV-1, launched in 1996, leased every one they made and had a waiting list of customers years long. That's right, they leased them, they refused to actually sell any of them.

Then in 1999 Republicans took control of the California legislature and repealed the legal requirement that these electric cars be made. Rather than continue to manufacture this wildly-popular vehicle, GM recalled and destroyed every single one of them. This was much easier to do since the cars had been leased instead of sold, and so legally remained the property of GM the entire time. When the recall was announced, many drivers offered to buy their EV1's. All of these offers to buy were turned down. It was more important to GM to make it completely clear that they weren't going to be pushed around by California liberals, than to make lots of money continuing to do what the liberals had forced them to start doing. (And presumably the environment was much further down the list of things which were important to GM.)

In 2010, GM started selling its 2nd electric car, the Volt. The Volt has only recently passed the 100,000 mark in worldwide sales. The Volt seems not to be well-liked by GM execs. Bob Lutz has been the most prominent supporter of the Volt within GM. Lutz is one of the most well-known "car guys" in the history of Detroit. (A "car guy" is an executive at an automotive company who also is an engineer and actually takes part in designing and manufacturing the cars. Opposed to the "car guys" are the "bean counters," specialists in finance.) The fact that Lutz has supported the Volt project seems to have hurt his image in some circles of the auto-exec world. It has also made him popular among environmentalists -- or at least it did, until he actually spoke with some environmentalists, and made it plain that he regards global warming to be a myth, and that his enthusiasm for electric vehicles is purely financial, stoked by fears of a future where gasoline costs $30 a gallon.

Toyota began selling the Prius around the time that the EV-1 was, literally, scrapped, and has sold 1.7 million of them in the US and over 5 million worldwide. It seems that different companies have different business models.

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