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.

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I know I'm a little late coming into this conversation, I just now happened upon it. Firstly, I, too, am appalled at GM's behavior. I saw the movie and was outraged. That said, there are two comments I'd like to add that nobody else has touched upon, but adds 'fuel' to the fire: 1) another use of oil that the electric vehicle does not require: how often do we have to change the "oil" in a gasoline engine? Usually more than a gallon of oil consumption and waste every 3 months! 2) Another likely reason for not going full-scale production on them, and probably a reason for the unreasonable delay in getting the EV's to market today is that service shops wouldn't have much to do to maintain or repair EV's. Gasoline engines provide a plethora of things that could go wrong, so if they make hybrids - with gasoline engines - they're still in business. There are also the manufacturers of gasoline engines who would lose out. I believe there is sinister behavior behind this, and that lobbyists figure prominently.

Chris: My husband and I both leased GM EV1s from 2000-2003, and loved them for all the reasons you describe. We also offered to buy ours, were very peeved when they were recalled by GM, and CBS Evening News filmed the return of my car to the dealership and interview both of us about what a travesty it was for GM to destroy the cars.

I was also charged $428 by GMAC for a supposed crack under the front bumper several weeks after I returned the car. No crack was visible when I returned the car, which was accepted by the dealership as in good condition. I immediately and repeatedly called and wrote GMAC, insisting that they show me the crack under the bumper of the car I leased. I believe a consumer has the right to be shown alleged damage for which they are being held responsible.

GMAC ignored my requests, sent me irrelevant form letters, would not return my phone calls, and would not offer or engage in any process of dispute resolution.

A few months ago, I come to find out that GMAC had put a negative item on my credit report - which is otherwise perfect - about my delay in paying this charge, while I attempted to get adequate verification of it from them. I am now fighting to get this removed from my credit report!

This set me wondering whether others had the same experience I did, so I web-searched, and found your comments. If my fascia plate was actually cracked, and if so many of the EV1 lessors had the same experience with the fascia cracking with normal use, this may mean that there was a design flaw in the EV1 that caused the same problem for a whole class of consumers. I wonder if there is any recourse on that basis?

And doesn't a company leasing a product have an obligation to provide evidence to consumers if they are claiming that the product had been damaged, before charging them for damage and then reporting them to credit bureaus? This is not to mention that all the cars were destroyed soon after, not leased to other customers, so they were obviously not repaired.

This situation has added another level of distaste to the whole EV1 issue for me, and I would like to find some method of holding GMAC more accountable. Please let me know if you have any ideas.

Gloria Duffy, Ph.D.
(President and CEO
The Commonwealth Club of California)

I have, in fact, checked out the figures in Mr. Gore's latest opus. A friend e-mailed me about it in that "the world is going to hell tomorrow" mode after she went to see "An Inconvenient Truth".

My usual response to semi-panic appeals for action is to do a little fact checking. So I did. My conclusion is that Mr. Gore is either culpably ignorant (the actual facts are, after all, readily available even to a layperson like me) or a liar. I lean toward culpably ignorant; I rather doubt Mr. Gore does his own "research". But according to the studies he cites, his "inconvenient truth" is ridiculously inaccurate, and at least one of the studies is demonstrably so flawed in its methodology that the flaw is obvious even to laymen such as my cousin the kindergarten teacher if they actually look at the study, not just the chart.

The world is NOT going to melt down any time soon. There is ongoing notable controversy among professional climatologists and such as to how much human activities have affected global warming.

There really ARE scientists who have been doing research projects on global warming and pollution and such for decades who claim, with supporting facts and documentation, that not only is the current trend of global warming a purely natural cycle that has happened before, but also, since it's caused by the interaction of our planet's atmosphere and surface with solar cycles, that there is nothing that the human race can do at our current level of technology to stop it.

Even the panic-mongers have to acknowlege that drastic human action to reduce pollution will have little effect on global warming. It'll slow, stop and reverse when the solar cycle peaks and starts to cool again.

There are many "experts" (mostly not actual scientists in any relevant-to-climatology discipline, and Mr. Gore is one such) who refer to the various studies that have been done but tie those references to conclusions that are not consistent with the conclusions reached by the scientists that did the studies and are not even close to justified by the facts.

Science is about studying reality. Political rants are not scientific in the hard-science meaning of the word.

I do care about keeping my environmental "footprint" as minimal as can reasonably be done. Our city has recycling, and we recycle. My husband and I use CF bulbs, not incandescent; we keep our vehicles (with their anti-pollution equipment) well maintained so that lack of maintenance won't cause them to pollute unnecessarily. I use public transit whenever possible. My disabled husband uses a walker, not a scooter. Our house is insulated to minimize the therms needed in cold weather and we keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees, our furnace and water heater are natural gas, etc, etc.

But there is no need to panic; the current panic-mongering regarding global warming appears to be based on lies and egregious exaggerations. For Mr. Gore and other such "experts" to preach panic for political advantage, when they personally do little or nothing to minimize their own pollution output, is a disgustingly hypocritical fraud. I'll believe they care when they tell the truth, when they stop travelling in pollution-spewing airplanes for recreational destinations, that sort of thing.

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