An Electric Vehicle's Shocking Problem
by Chris Yoder
Hello, my name is Chris, and I am addicted to oil. But there was a time I tried to do something about it: I had the opportunity to drive a much more environmentally friendly vehicle.
For six glorious years my wife and I had an electric car -- a General Motors EV1. Driving the EV1 always put a smile on my face. It always felt fresh and 'new'. It was fast and fun to drive (a little too fast -- I managed to get my only speeding ticket of the last 20 years having fun in it).
Driving the EV1 was like flying some kind of space ship: With no shifting transmission, and a faint jet-like whine in the gearset, when you dropped the accelerator peddle to the floor it felt like you were about to take off. The gauges were all digital, the glass radically curved, and you were seated low next to a tall center console.
It got more attention than anything else on the road, even in car crazy Los Angeles where I live. I was constantly being stopped and asked about it. Once somebody actually rear-ended me because they were "so busy looking at the car."
But there were a few problems -- not with the car, but with GM.
First, getting one was not easy. You couldn't just go down to the local Saturn Dealer and say: "I'll take the red one." Instead, you had to go to the local Saturn Dealer and ask them to send the EV1 specialist over. A week or more later, the specialist would come over to tell you everything wrong about the car and "pre-qualify" you and the place you lived. If you still wanted one, and you were lucky, several weeks later, after a special charger box was installed at your home, you would get your car. It was like they were doing their level best to keep you from it!
Second, in December of 2002 I had to give it up! I wanted to keep it, as did a very high percentage of the people who got to drive one, but GM refused to sell them -- you could only lease them. We tried to extend our leases, but GM refused to extend any of the leases. They insisted that we give the car back and even threatened to charge us with Grand Theft Auto if we didn't.
What were they doing with the cars? Crushing them! Really. We wanted them, but they wanted to destroy them. And they did.
But what really makes me a Cranky Customer is that a few weeks after turning it in, we got a call from GMAC saying that we owed $430 in damages for the car that they were going to crush! Over several months we had the following conversation: "But wait, there was no visible damage!" I claimed. They said that the underside of the front fascia was cracked. (The front end was pretty low and easy to hook on a parking stone when you backed out of a space.) "OK, then let me buy the lease out." Nope, can't do that. "You're just going to crush it!!!!" No answer.
We weren't alone in this, just about every other EV1 turned in during this period was hit with these damages (usually the front fascia being cracked on the underside), nor did we get the largest bill (I know one person who was billed over $1,600!)
I could go on, but there's actually a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? that tells the story quite well (and it's entertaining!)
These days my wife drives a RAV4 EV -- Toyota actually sold their RAV4 EVs to the public in 2002-2003. New, they were $45,000, with $9,000 of incentives for a net cost of $36,000. Just over three months ago a used RAV4 EV sold on EBAY for $67,300 -- double the "new" price for a vehicle with 60,000 miles on it! I replaced my EV1 with a "gas-guzzling" Prius hybrid -- and feel the angst every time it goes into pure EV mode and every time I have to pull into the toxic waste dump on the corner to fill it up.
Chris Yoder is an I.T. professional. He works for the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.