The Electric Vehicle Revolution Could Have Happened Over Two Decades Ago

One of the biggest growth points for electrical training and electricians is the surge in demand for electric vehicle charging points, spurred on by increased interest in moving from petrol and diesel to electric cars.


The charging point plays an essential role in this as it reduces the average charging time for a vehicle from up to 12 hours to potentially less than one if they use a particularly high-voltage station, which alongside range improvements makes an EV far more viable and its cost benefits more tangible.


However, all of this could have potentially happened as early as 1996 with the release of the first mass-produced electric vehicle from a major car manufacturer, the General Motors EV1.


This was the first EV that could practically be used and it appeared to be the signifier of a revolution before it was suddenly and abruptly discontinued and all traces of it were crushed and destroyed amidst a sea of controversy.


Here is the story of an alternative future that would already be with us had only the slightest details changed.


The Rise And Sudden Stop Of The EV1


Electric vehicles are nothing new, with the technology dating back as early as 1839 and the earliest electric vehicle prototypes existing by the end of that century.


However, they were limited by the somewhat crude battery technology of the era and a general lack of electric power structure that would linger long into the 20th century. Once the Ford Model T became successful and proved that cars could have range, EVs quickly became too expensive to be viable.


There have been several attempts to kickstart the EV revolution, but for the majority of the 20th century, most electric vehicles on the road were milk floats.


The oil crisis of the 1970s brought a resurgence of interest but the only vehicles to leave the prototype stage were somewhat slow small urban vehicles such as the Sinclair C5.


In 1990, General Motors showcased the Impact concept car, a purpose-built electric car that looked like it could potentially be successful.


The US state of California passed what became known as the ZEV mandate, a requirement that the seven biggest car manufacturers in the US needed to produce and sell a zero-emissions vehicle in order to continue to market in California.


GM respond with the PrEView, which was a limited trial of handbuilt Impact concept cars that would be lent to drivers who were required to log their experiences. They expected less than a hundred volunteers. They received 10,000 in Los Angeles alone, and 14,000 in New York City.


However, despite this clear interest, GM called the PrEView a ‘failure’ and claimed that it proved EVs were not viable nor desired by the marketplace despite evidence to the contrary.


After criticism from New York’s Commissioner of Environmental Conservation, GM evolved the PrEView into the EV1 lease program with a specific clause that did not allow people to buy the cars they were leasing.


Despite its popularity and high satisfaction ratings amongst the limited number who could get the lease, GM shut down the EV1 assembly line in 1999 and removed them from the road entirely in 2002.

Incidentally, that same year GM produced the Hummer H2, a gigantic SUV that infamously had a fuel economy rate of fewer than ten miles per gallon.


The EV1’s sudden discontinuation has remained controversial to this day, and it would take the popularity of the hybrid Toyota Prius and a new generation of electric cars for interest to return.