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Who Killed The Electric Car?

Who Killed The Electric Car?

In the 1990s, the electric vehicle seemed poised to revolutionize transportation and reduce society’s reliance on fossil fuels. Major automakers like General Motors were investing heavily in electric car programs, aiming to be at the forefront of what appeared to be the future of driving. Enthusiasm was high, with early electric vehicles praised for their smooth, quiet power and lack of tailpipe emissions. But over the course of the decade, that initial optimism faded. Despite the promise shown by GM’s innovative EV1 electric car, the program was controversially cancelled after just a few years. This left many industry watchers wondering – who killed the electric car?

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The Promising Birth of the EV1

In the mid-1990s, General Motors made a bold move to bring electric vehicles into the mainstream with the introduction of the EV1. Unveiled in 1996, the EV1 was the first mass-produced and purpose-built electric car from a major automaker in the modern era. GM positioned the sleek, aerodynamic EV1 as a technology leader for the company and a pioneering step towards sustainable transportation.

Initial reviews of the EV1 were glowing, with early adopters praising its smooth, quiet power and lack of emissions. For GM, the EV1 helped drive conversation around electric vehicles and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. It represented a futuristic vision that contrasted with the gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks that otherwise dominated GM’s lineup at the time.

However, GM limited the rollout of the EV1 through a lease-only program in select markets like California and Arizona. This lease-only approach restricted broader adoption of the EV1, even as customer waitlists continued to grow. But for those able to lease an EV1, it marked the start of the electric vehicle age and demonstrated the significant potential of EVs to revolutionize transportation.


Enthusiasm Builds for the EV1

Despite some ongoing limitations, enthusiasm and excitement grew around the EV1 in the late 1990s among early adopters. The EV1 received praise and awards from organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and Motor Trend magazine, applauding its innovative technology and lack of emissions.

The EV1 gained a cult following among drivers in California and Arizona, the main markets where it was available. Long waiting lists developed as more consumers became eager to lease one of the few thousand EV1s GM produced. Many drivers raved about the smooth, quiet power delivery and futuristic design.

However, factors like limited range and lengthy charge times remained barriers for wider adoption. The Gen 1 EV1 models offered 70-100 miles per charge, while a fill up at the gas station took minutes compared to hours of charging. Still, for those able to adapt their driving habits, the EV1 provided a tantalizing glimpse of a gasoline-free future.


The Peak and Decline of the EV1

After an initial surge of enthusiasm, interest in the EV1 began to wane in the late 1990s. Several key factors contributed to this decline:


Falling gas prices during this period reduced consumer motivation to switch to electric vehicles. With unleaded gas dipping under $1 per gallon in some areas in 1998 and 1999, the cost savings of an electric vehicle were less pronounced. Drivers were content to stick with cheaper gas-powered cars.

GM faced mounting criticism that it was not fully committed to the EV1 program. Many felt the automaker did not market or promote the EV1 aggressively enough. GM was accused of sabotaging the electric car initiative through lack of support and limited availability.

By 2003, GM had begun reclaiming EV1 leases and removing cars from the road, despite long wait lists of drivers still eager to lease them. This was seen as a deliberate attempt to undermine the program and the future of electric cars.


The Sudden Cancellation of the EV1 Program

In 2003, General Motors made the controversial decision to abruptly cancel the EV1 program, despite waiting lists still existing for the electric car. GM began reclaiming all the leased EV1s from customers and sending them to car crushers, demolishing every existing example of the pioneering electric vehicle.

GM claimed that the cancellation was due to a lack of spare parts for the cars as well as a lack of consumer demand. However, many EV proponents argued these were merely excuses, as GM continued to fill waiting lists for leases up until the very end of the program. Additionally, customers pleaded to be able to purchase their leased EV1s, but were denied by GM.

The sudden crushing of the EV1 fleet angered many electric vehicle enthusiasts who had hoped the car would transform transportation. They accused GM of intentionally sabotaging the electric car despite its initial promise. GM had seemingly given up on the EV1 just as consumers were becoming eager to adopt and support electric vehicles. The program cancellation appeared to be a deliberate choice by GM rather than a reaction to market forces.


GM’s Rationales for Killing the EV1

While GM claimed that lack of consumer interest and parts availability drove the demise of the EV1, many have speculated that this was merely a convenient excuse. The company likely had deeper concerns about the long-term viability and profitability of electric vehicles that made them eager to shut down the program.

GM faced skepticism that a sufficient market existed for electric cars to justify the continued investment and production expenses. Though early adopters were enthusiastic, data did not conclusively show that a mainstream customer base would embrace the EV1. Many within GM feared sinking more resources into a product that would never recoup costs, let alone generate profits.

The influence of allies in the oil industry likely also played a role. GM had close ties with oil companies, which stood to lose revenue if electric vehicles reduced gasoline consumption. GM may have felt pressure from these entities to not pursue electric cars. Even as late as 2006, an LA Times poll showed nearly half of Americans believed oil companies conspired to stop development of electric cars.

In the end, GM determined the challenges and risks of making the EV1 successful long-term were too great. Despite the positive reception and waitlists, the company cited low demand and high costs as reasons to abruptly terminate the pioneering program. Whether due to profit concerns, industry pressure, or both, GM was unwilling to commit to electric vehicles. The EV1 fell victim to internal decisions, not consumer disinterest.


The Role of the Oil Industry

The powerful oil industry likely played a significant part in undermining support for electric vehicles like the EV1. Major oil companies have a vested interest in gasoline and diesel vehicles remaining dominant, as it keeps demand high for their core products.

There is evidence that the oil industry engaged in lobbying and public relations campaigns to stifle incentives or investments into electric vehicle technology. They helped spread doubts and misinformation about the long-term viability and practicality of vehicles like the EV1. Some tactics may have included:


  • Lobbying lawmakers against tax credits, rebates, or other policies supporting electric car adoption
  • Funding think tanks and commissions that questioned the readiness of electric vehicle technology
  • Promoting the idea that gas vehicles were the only practical choice for most drivers
  • Casting electric vehicles as unrealistic, expensive, and unable to fully replace gas cars


By hampering political and public enthusiasm for electric cars, the oil industry likely contributed to diminishing support for GM’s EV1 initiative. This allowed the continued dominance of gas-powered vehicles that rely on the oil industry’s products.

While not the only factor, the oil industry’s self-interest in protecting their existing business likely helped undermine the EV1 program and stifle the potential of electric cars to disrupt the automotive status quo.


Consumer Resistance to Change

While GM and the oil industry played a significant role in undermining the EV1 program, lack of consumer demand was also a key factor. Many drivers in the 1990s were deeply attached to the convenience, familiarity, and flexibility of gas-powered vehicles. Switching to an electric car represented a major change in habits and mindset that many consumers were not ready to make.

EVs at the time also suffered from “range anxiety” – concerns about running out of charge before reaching a destination or finding a place to recharge. The EV1’s range was estimated at 70-100 miles before needing a recharge, far below the 300+ mile range of most gas cars. This range limitation made some consumers hesitant to adopt EVs for their main vehicle.

Additionally, there were very few government incentives in the 1990s to motivate consumers to choose electric cars. Without subsidies, tax credits, HOV lane access, and other benefits, EVs faced an uphill battle against cheaper and more convenient gas cars. Many consumers saw EVs as an expensive novelty rather than a viable alternative.

This combination of consumer habits, concerns, and lack of incentives stacked the deck against mass adoption of the EV1. Winning over the hearts and minds of drivers was just as key as the technology itself in determining the success of electric vehicles.


The Collapse of the EV1 Program

After its initial launch and promotion in the late 1990s, GM’s commitment to the EV1 soon began to waver. Despite the praise from early adopters, no more EV1s were produced after 1999. This was an early sign of GM pulling back support and investment in the electric vehicle program.

The decline accelerated in 2003 when GM began ramping up efforts to reclaim EV1 leases and stop renewals. They cited a lack of parts for servicing the vehicles as well as waning consumer demand. However, electric vehicle advocates argued there were still eager customers who wanted to keep leasing the EV1, but GM refused to extend leases and began taking back the vehicles.

The end came in 2004 when GM’s remaining EV1s were rounded up from customers and sent to car crushing facilities, permanently demolishing the last examples of the pioneering electric car. GM ensured that not a single production EV1 would remain. This marked the sudden and shocking end to what had been a promising new beginning for emission-free transportation just a few years earlier.


The EV1’s Unfulfilled Promise

The demise of the EV1 program represented a major setback for electric vehicles more broadly, stifling innovation and adoption for many years. GM had poured significant resources into developing the technology and design behind the pioneering EV1. Their sudden about-face signaled that even the major automakers lacked confidence in electric drivetrains becoming a viable alternative to gas vehicles.

This reversal by GM cast a pall over the entire electric vehicle industry. Many saw it as confirmation that consumers just weren’t ready to adopt electric cars, despite their benefits for emissions and energy security. Investors became wary of funding new EV startups with such an uncertain path to profitability. It would take over a decade before Tesla emerged to finally start turning the tide of public opinion back in favor of electric drivetrains.

In the interim, the EV1’s failure represented lost years of potential progress. Had GM remained committed and continued iterating on the EV1, some argue the technology would have advanced much faster. More drivers could have become accustomed to electric vehicles being practical and desirable. Instead, GM’s abandonment of the program reinforced the perception that EVs were just a passing fad, setting back their mainstream adoption for many years.

The EV1 had demonstrated the promise of electric vehicles, but its premature cancellation prevented that promise from being fulfilled. This missed opportunity represented tremendous lost potential to move away from reliance on fossil fuels and transform personal transportation much sooner. GM’s wavering commitment came at a real cost to broader electric vehicle innovation and adoption worldwide.


Impact on Electric Vehicle Perception

The controversial demise of the EV1 cast doubt on the viability of mainstream electric vehicles for many industry observers and consumers. Despite the excitement generated during its initial launch, the rapid withdrawal of the EV1 reinforced perceptions that electric cars were not ready for primetime.

Seeing a major automaker like GM abandon their electric car program so abruptly made many feel that the technology simply wasn’t advanced enough yet. It added credibility to those who argued that issues like limited range and long charging times meant EVs could not truly compete with gas-powered cars.

The EV1’s failure also suggested that even innovative automakers were not fully committed to electric drivetrains yet. With GM crushing its fleet of reclaimed EV1s, it sent the message that the industry as a whole was still resistant to moving beyond combustion engines.

For the general car buying public who had seen the hype around the EV1 just a few years prior, its sudden disappearance confirmed suspicions that electric cars were more marketing gimmick than viable alternative. This perception would linger for years and make consumers reluctant to take electric cars seriously going forward.


The Eventual EV Resurgence

Despite the demise of the EV1, electric vehicles would eventually make a comeback thanks to advancements in technology and shifting attitudes. One of the biggest factors enabling EVs to reemerge was improvements in lithium-ion battery technology. Early EVs like the EV1 used lead-acid and nickel metal hydride batteries, which were heavy, bulky, and limited vehicle range. But in the 2000s, lithium-ion batteries became more widespread, providing more power storage in a smaller, lighter package. This let EVs achieve ranges comparable to gas vehicles for the first time.

Another major catalyst for EVs was the emergence of Tesla Motors in the mid-2000s. Founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, Tesla focused exclusively on premium electric vehicles with sleek styling and high performance. Unlike the EV1, Tesla sold its vehicles directly to consumers rather than relying on leases. Tesla proved EVs could be desired consumer products with the right branding and technology. As Tesla’s sales and reputation grew, it paved the way for wider EV adoption across the auto industry.

Public concern about climate change and fossil fuel dependence also helped shift opinions back in favor of EVs. Gasoline prices spiked again in the late 2000s, reminding consumers of the drawbacks of petroleum-fueled transportation. EVs were seen as a way to mitigate oil dependence and reduce carbon emissions from driving. This growing environmental consciousness, especially among younger generations, created more consumer demand for sustainable electric vehicles.

Thanks to these factors, by the 2010s EVs were experiencing a rebirth. Practically every major automaker was investing in electric models, with more choices and improved designs compared to 1990s experiments like the EV1. With more political and industry commitment to electrification, EVs were finally gaining the momentum and consumer interest needed for mainstream success.


Government Support for EVs

A major factor in the demise of the EV1 was a lack of government support for electric vehicle ownership and infrastructure in the 1990s. At the time, there were no incentives for consumers to choose electric cars, and little investment in charging stations or other infrastructure needed to enable widespread EV adoption. However, in more recent years, governments have taken a much more active role in promoting electric vehicles:


EV Tax Credits and Incentives

Many governments now offer strong financial incentives for electric vehicle purchases. In the United States, there is a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buying an electric car. Some states like California offer additional rebates up to $2,000. Canada also provides incentives up to $5,000 CAD federally and up to $8,000 provincially in Quebec. These credits make EVs more affordable.


Investments in Charging Infrastructure

Governments are also investing heavily in building out electric vehicle charging infrastructure. In the U.S., the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $7.5 billion to build 500,000 new EV chargers across the country. Canada is spending $1 billion on zero emission vehicle infrastructure. Widespread charging availability makes EVs more practical and convenient.


Stricter Emissions Regulations

Stricter government emissions regulations are pushing automakers to invest more heavily in electric vehicles. Initiatives like California’s zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate forces manufacturers to sell more electric cars. The European Union is phasing in requirements for automakers to reduce average fleet emissions. These regulations give EVs a boost.


The Future of Electric Vehicles

Despite the failure of the EV1 program, electric vehicles have continued to gain momentum and are now poised to transform transportation. Consumer interest and adoption of EVs has been rising steadily, especially as range and charging infrastructure improves. Tesla’s success has also demonstrated that there is a viable market for well-designed electric cars.

In response, most major automakers are now investing heavily in electric vehicle development and committing to transition their lineups. Ford, GM, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Toyota and others have announced plans to release dozens of new EV models over the next 5-10 years. Many countries have also set aggressive timelines to phase out gasoline vehicle sales entirely in the coming decades.

With this newfound industry commitment and continued technological progress, electric vehicles have the potential to fundamentally transform transportation and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The rapid demise of the 1990s EV1 obscured that promise for a time, but EVs now seem destined to deliver on that initial potential and shake up the automotive world once again.



The story of GM’s EV1 program and its eventual cancellation showed both the challenges facing electric vehicle adoption at the time, as well as the underlying promise of the technology. While the failure of the EV1 was a setback, it also provided valuable lessons that have driven further innovation in recent years.

With more commitment from the auto industry, government support through incentives and charging infrastructure, and consumers open to change, electric vehicles may finally be poised to deliver on their initial potential. Companies like Tesla have shown that there is a viable market for well-designed electric cars.

The demise of the EV1 serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when this promise is abandoned too soon. GM likely made missteps that led to the program ending before electric vehicle technology could fully mature. However, their pioneering efforts paved the way for the rise of EVs today.

As long as we continue supporting innovation and adoption, the electric car still has the power to revolutionize transportation and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. If we learn from the story of the EV1, this time the electric car does not need to be “killed” before it can truly thrive.

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Questions About Who Killed The Electric Car

There is no clear consensus on who specifically was behind killing electric vehicle programs in Canada. However, some argue that pressure from oil companies and automakers led the government to end incentives and research funding in the 1990s. Lack of consumer demand also likely played a role.

Electric vehicles failed to gain widespread adoption in Canada in the 1990s for several key reasons:


– High costs – EVs were much more expensive than gas vehicles at the time, making them unappealing to most consumers. Lack of economies of scale and expensive batteries drove costs upwards of $60,000.


– Limited driving range – Most EVs in the 1990s could only drive about 100-200 km before needing to be recharged, inadequate for most drivers.


– Minimal government support – Canadian federal and provincial governments provided some subsidies but lacked sustained long-term commitment to growing the EV market with incentives, charging infrastructure funding, etc.


– Low consumer demand – With high costs and limited range, most mainstream consumers saw little appeal in purchasing electric vehicles in the 1990s.


– Pressure from oil/auto industries – Powerful oil and traditional automaker lobbying likely influenced some policymakers against robust EV adoption programs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford cancelled the province’s generous electric vehicle rebate program in 2018 shortly after taking office. The stated reasons were to cut government spending and reduce electricity costs. However, critics argued the move was ideological and killed an effective policy stimulating rapid EV adoption. EV sales dropped significantly after the cancellation before recovering.

Yes, both the federal government and some provinces now have extensive programs and incentives aimed at accelerating consumer EV purchases. These include rebates up to $5,000 per vehicle, charging infrastructure investments, research funding, and purchase incentives for businesses/governments. However, some argue more robust policies are still needed for Canada to meet its zero-emission vehicle targets.

The federal government currently offers several major EV incentive programs:


– Up to $5,000 rebate for qualifying consumer EV purchases


– Up to $550 rebate for installing a qualifying home EV charger


– Enhanced capital cost allowances for businesses buying EVs


– Funding for workplaces/apartment buildings to install EV chargers


– Investments in public fast charging stations across Canada


Several provinces offer additional rebates and incentives stacked on top of the federal programs.

While accelerating, Canada’s EV adoption still lags leading global markets. In 2022, 9.4% of vehicles sold in Canada were electric, below the EU (22%) and global leaders like Norway (84%). However, Canada has seen rapid growth recently and some provinces like B.C. are nearing 20% EV sales shares. Canada ranked 8th globally in EV adoption rates in 2022.

Some recent or proposed policy developments that may provide a boost to Canadian EV adoption include:

– Tighter federal fuel efficiency standards requiring more zero-emission vehicles


– B.C.’s mandate for all new light-duty cars/trucks sold be zero-emission by 2035


– Ontario’s potential adoption of a similar ZEV mandate to B.C.


– Quebec’s regulation banning sale of new gas/diesel vehicles by 2035


– Expanded public EV charging infrastructure funded by carbon pricing

Studies indicate Canada’s electricity grid has sufficient overall capacity to handle projected EV adoption without needing major upgrades in most regions. EVs would increase total demand by just 5-25% by 2050. However, some local grid infrastructure improvements and demand management strategies may be prudent to handle concentrated pockets of EV charging.

Yes – modern electric vehicles and batteries are designed to perform well in cold temperatures. Studies by Natural Resources Canada found little impact on EV range/performance in extreme Canadian winter conditions with temperatures as low as ‐30°C. Heating cabin drainage systems also ensure proper operation. Winter tires are still recommended like any vehicle.

Lack of extended range for long Canadian road trips remains a top consumer concern impeding EV purchases. However, range of 200+ km covers most daily driving for a majority of Canadians. Newer EVs now achieving 400+ km ranges alleviate more range anxiety. Investments in fast charging stations across highways also expand destination travel potential.

Most studies indicate electric vehicle batteries hold up well over time in cold Canadian conditions. Battery range loss is reasonably limited to 10-20% over 200,000+ km – on par with warmer regions. Active thermal management systems in modern EVs help regulate battery temperatures, minimizing performance impacts in winter.

Expanding global rare earth metal and lithium production should be sufficient to meet escalating demand from mass EV adoption, according to most expert analyses. Recycling battery materials from retired EVs will also become an increasingly important source. However, supply chain bottlenecks may cause short-term spikes before more mining and refining capacity comes online.

Over their lifetime, EVs charged on Canada’s relatively clean electricity grid produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than gas vehicles – about 1/10th as much. However, EV manufacturing has a larger upfront carbon footprint. To maximize environmental benefits, adopting clean energy policies alongside EV incentives is recommended.

Widespread EV adoption will lead to declining gasoline demand over the long-term, reducing direct jobs in oil/gas extraction, refining and transport. However, EV manufacturing, electricity generation, battery recycling, engineering and associated jobs may offset losses. Proactive government retraining programs can ease labour force transitions to emerging clean energy jobs.

Yes – buying used electric vehicles can provide big savings compared to new models. With battery ranges exceeding manufacturer warranties, used EVs may only suffer minor battery degradation. Potential buyers should still evaluate battery health reports and be aware that rebates typically only apply to new EVs. As volumes grow, the used EV market offers a pathway to ownership for more Canadians.

Experts estimate roughly 90% of vehicles in Canada could feasibly transition to electric models as the technology improves – including cars, SUVs, light trucks, commercial vehicles etc. Challenges remain around long-haul transport trucks, heavy equipment and niche vehicles, but these could utilize low-carbon alternative fuels. Multiple studies see paths for nearly 100% electric passenger, commercial and municipal vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) offer some advantages over battery EVs, producing only water as exhaust. However, EVs are proving more efficient and affordable to scale up. Hydrogen may fill niche heavy-duty vehicle roles. Canada does have ample potential clean hydrogen production from renewable electricity or natural gas with carbon capture. If costs can compete with batteries, hydrogen FCEVs could gain Canadian market share.

British Columbia currently leads Canadian provinces in electric vehicle sales thanks to its zero-emission vehicles mandate and other supportive policies. In 2022, over 15% of B.C. light-duty vehicle sales were electric. Quebec and Ontario follow next with over 10% EV sale shares from their strong provincial incentive programs alongside federal policies.

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