A Retrospective on "Who killed the electric car?"

The "death" of the General Motor’s EV-1 was an occurrence which sparked sadness in the hearts of quite some people around the world. Celebrities and environmental activists alike mourned the loss of this vehicle, a high-powered emissions-free car which ran on huge batteries. The loss of this vehicle was so severe of the people apparently a funeral was held in its honor. A tad dramatic I know but a huge symbol of what the EV-1 meant to a lot of people. The EV-1 was one of the first electric cars with a loyal legion of followers. All of this was covered in the documentary “How killed the Electric Car”

Fast forward to 2017, and now electric cars are more popular than ever. Now Tesla Motors is the leading the market in Electric vehicles, when they announced that they would be making a 35,000-dollar sedan they received thousands of pre-orders. The success of Tesla Motors has forced other car companies to follow their lead. Now GM is back into the electric car market, with the Chevrolet Volt and it has plans to expand its electric offering in big ways in the future. There is no sugar coating it, the electric car was killed back in the 1990s, but why are the same people that pulled the trigger reviving the industry?   

What happened in 1990?

Advocates of a free market claim that government regulation can be an obstacle to innovation and economic progress. Their argument rests on the belief that intervention from governments are unguided and never are conducive to economic progress. This belief is problematic. Free markets can be devastating to the environment and it can put a huge amount of pressure on the averaging working person to work for less money. Everything in politics and economics is always more complex then they seem, but when you look at the death of the electric car the zeal of lawmakers definitely had a negative effect.

In 1990 California Air Resources Board rolled out the Zero Emission Mandate, which required car makers to introduce zero emissions vehicles or stop the sale of conventional vehicles in the state. The goal of this legislation was to force automobile maker to accelerate their plans to launch electric vehicles. It had the opposite effect than intended General Motors launched the EV-1, but intentionally attempted to undermine its viability. The EV-1 was leased not sold, the lobbied to get rid of the regulation, and despite the growing demand for the product, GM CEO Rick Wagoner to withdraw all leased electric cars citing "limited demands." GM literally destroyed the product to avoid meeting the law.

What is happening in the Electric Car industry now?  

                A lot has gone into the success of Telsa Motors. The technology in electric car has certainly improved since the 1990s. Specifically, Telsa’s rely on lithium-ion batteries, which yields far superior. Whereas GM had the opportunity to use lithium-ion batteries in the EV-1 but opted to go with weaker equipment. Furthermore, electric cars have always been supported by lawmakers with various subsidies and tax breaks. The success of Telsa is mostly due to strong business strategy and vision of its founder. With the Telsa Model 3 coming to the market in the next few years, the original goal of the California Air Resources will be achieved: consumers will have access to affordable electric cars.

So, what should lawmakers do? Its hard to say and we can’t go into all the details today. Comeback to Elucidation to get some of the answers.


Matthew Griffin