GM EV1 on display at Petersen museum – one of the few still out there

EV1 - 1The closest I’ve ever come to a General Motors EV1 was while walking through an exhibit at Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on Saturday. It was part of the Alternative Power: Lessons from the Past, Inspiration for the Future display, and it showed a 1996 EV1 that somehow looked very familiar to me.

The car’s display board reads as follows:  “The EV1 was the first modern production electric vehicle from a major manufacturer and was designed from the ground up to be an electric car. Only select dealers in California and Arizona were chosen to lease and service the EV1 and this coupe was the first to be delivered to Orange County. Impressed by its lively performance and civilized amenities, EV1 enthusiast Kris Trexler took it on a trip from Los Angeles to Troy, Michigan soon after taking delivery. Though he had to carefully plan his numerous ‘re-fueling’ stops weeks in advance, Trexler was able to demonstrate the potential of electric power and introduce a large number of people to the rediscovered transportation technology.”

I had seen this electric car before – near the end of the movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”  Former Saturn employee Chelsea Sexton was allowed to enter the Petersen Automotive Museum to see one of the few remaining EV1s. This one had been originally leased to Kris Trexler, and was donated by GM. Trexler, a Los Angeles-based TV and film editor, took a 3,275 mile road trip from May 12 to June 2, 1998. You can view his slideshow from the trip, which he called “Charge Across America.”

While there were 1,117 of these EV1s manufactured by GM, there are only about 40 of them left. “Who Killed the Electric Car?” was presented as a mystery story and finished up depicting GM as the villain. For reasons unexplained by the automaker in the film, GM took back the cars and crushed them. That took place soon after California relaxed its zero-emission vehicle sales mandate; GM and other automakers had introduced a limited number of EVs in the state and backed away from it after the state’s decision to relax the mandate.

The EV1 had been leased from about 1998 to 2003 through Saturn dealers, and had been loved by several of its lessors – including actors Tom Hanks and Danny DeVito. The two-seater was considered by some people to be the most sophisticated electric car ever built. As you can see from the photo taken at the Petersen museum display, it had a space-age look that stood out on roads. The EV1’s lead-acid battery was about four times as heavy as the lithium-ion battery pack used in the Chevrolet Volt. The EV1 had a driving range of 60 to 80 miles. EV fans had been building their own do-it-yourself original and conversion EVs since the 1960s. The EV1 represented a new era in EV history when major automakers like GM gave them a shot. That effort failed and it took about eight more years for GM to build another plug-in EV model – the Volt.

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