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General Motors’ first modern electric car is often discussed in a shroud of conspiracy. First displayed at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1990, the EV1 saw a lot of drama in the following decade before its fateful end.
There are a lot of opinions about why GM started the project, why the automaker released it the way it did, and why it came in such an odd package, but it’s the car’s death that inspired allegations of self-sabotage and collusion with the oil industry.
In 2003, GM collected all but 40 of the EV1s and crushed them. The remaining EVs were donated to museums and universities, but not before the manufacturer deactivated their powertrains to keep them off the road.
The rocky start of the GM EV1
On April 22, 1990, a few months after GM first revealed what would become the EV1 at the L.A. Auto Show, the company announced its plans to produce the car, aiming to sell 25,000 units a year.
What was then called the GM Impact could apparently offer a 125-mile range under ideal conditions, a jaw-dropping feat at the time. But the company’s financial problems in the years afterward forced the program to be delayed.
In an article written for Hagerty, EV1 team member Gary Witzenburg says the program started up again in 1994. Three battery types were tested, all with different results and price points. By the end of 1996, the team was sending models to Saturn dealers in L.A. Phoenix, and Tucson.
An abrupt rise and fall
The company later expanded to San Francisco and Sacramento, but because of battery availability, dismal range in cold weather, and almost nonexistent public charging options, GM only offered the EV1 in these few locations, and only for lease.
With such limited accessibility and no infrastructure to support the car, demand for the car never took off. From the first shipments in ‘96 to the end of production in ‘99, the company only built 1,117 EV1s. Suppliers discontinued replacement parts, forcing GM to end the experiment.
Many who actually leased the EV1 loved it, and so they were understandably upset when GM terminated their leases and started destroying them in 2002. Their feelings of betrayal fed the conspiracy theories surrounding the project in the following decades.
But Witzenburg says liability issues, state service support laws requiring the production of replacement parts for at least 15 years, and GM’s desire to protect its technology from being replicated by competitors were the key reasons for why the EV1s were sent to the crushers.
The GM EV1’s legacy
Despite what some may have you believe, it appears GM gave a strong effort in the ‘90s to build a reliable and affordable electric car. In the end, poor battery performance was the barrier they just couldn’t overcome.
While the program introduced other innovations, it wasn’t until Tesla’s Roadster arrived in 2008 that the world had a mass-produced EV that could function in a wide enough variety of conditions. GM and other automakers quickly jumped into the EV game in the following decade.
EVs are still more expensive to own on average than other vehicles, but automakers and car insurance companies are working to bring the costs down. If you’re looking for cheap car insurance for your EV, try shopping with Jerry.
A licensed broker that offers end-to-end support, the Jerry app gathers affordable quotes, helps you switch plans, and will even help you cancel your old policy.