Who Killed the Electric Car?

June 5, 2009

in Economics, Films and movies, Politics, The environment

Yellow Fiat rearview mirror

This film is worth seeing, if only to dispel the notion that all the electric vehicles that existed in the last few decades were awkward, short-range creations. The EV1 looks about as good as the forthcoming Chevy volt, got 260km per charge (with the second generation Ni-MH battery, apparently available from the outset), and was released in 1996. The film also helps to illustrate some of the relationships between lawmaking, regulation, and strategic industrial behaviour. Sadly, it also hints at the general willingness of political bodies and even bureaucracies to fold in the face of industry pressure, even when industries are acting against their own long-term best interest. Indeed, the film makes a reasonably compelling case that the American auto industry conspired to crush the electric vehicle as an alternative to the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine car.

The film also does a decent job of highlighting that the hydrogen car has always been a deeply unlikely proposition; hydrogen is just an energy carrier, and it is a deeply problematic one. Fuel cells are expensive and don’t last very long. Hydrogen takes energy to produce and compress of liquefy. It is tough to store, and there is no fuel distribution infrastructure for it. Compared to all that, electricity looks very appealing.

The film does seem to contribute to the common argument that our current approach to automobile regulation lacks vision, especially given the degree to which auto companies are now creatures of government largesse. Given climate change, given the possibility of peak oil, given the geopolitical consequences of oil dependence, it really seems as though they should be under much stronger pressure to produce very efficient vehicles, as well as vehicles that do not derive their energy from fossil fuels. Now that the government and unions own GM, perhaps they can insist on digging up any corporate records that haven’t been destroyed, with respect to internal deliberations on electric vehicle strategies, as well as responding to California’s mandate for zero emission vehicles.

Individual vehicles won’t ever really be an efficient option, compared with mass transit. That being said, it is unlikely that we will see their abandonment in the developed world, nor much diminished interest in them in the rising middle classes of developing states. If we are going to keep building cars, we need to do so far more intelligently. Electric vehicles will likely be a big part of that.

[Update: 2:11pm In retrospect, some of the film’s conspiratorial allegations may be less convincing than they appear at first blush. It is certainly plausible that oil companies would have a reason to resist the widespread deployment of vehicles that are not dependent on their key product, but it is another thing entirely to prove that they actually took action in that direction.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

. June 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

Me and the Mini-e

The Mini-e is in a ‘field trial’ in the US. It is an all-electric car. It has the same body as a Mini Cooper S. People were invited to apply for one. Well, actually, for a 1-year lease. My sister and her husband applied and recieved one of the first ones to be delivered in LA. (They are only availalbe in the LA and New York areas.) At the end of the year the car will have to go back to Mini Cooper for evaluation.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I’m confused, isn’t this a conspiracy theory? It’s certainly a conspiracy theory to insist that popular electric cars were killed off because they could have reduced demand for oil and ergo oil company profits.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Conspiracies do happen. For instance, among senior Nazis to eradicate Jews in Germany and surrounding countries.

Conspiracy theories‘ are distinguished from theories about conspiracies because they lack solid evidence, and are based on flawed forms of logical justification.

One such flawed argument is: “Some conspiracies (such as efforts by certain industries to prevent the rise of electric cars to popularity) are plausible and have evidence supporting them, therefore all conspiracy theories (about the JFK assasination, aliens, ESP, etc) are plausible.”

Matt June 5, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I think basically GM was compelled to produce this car to meet a zero emission vehicle law, which was then repealed by politicians under the thumb of the oil lobby. GM, seeking to make the most profits possible, discontinued the EV1 to use their finite resources to make more profitable vehicles, SUVs and trucks and regular cars. I think too much is focused on why they yanked a successful electric vehicle. Really, it’s simple: while it may have been a potentially profitable niche market for them, at the time there were more profitable ways to invest. When the ZEV law went away, so did the EV1.

Of course we know now they had limited foresight into the oil crisis and because of it are now heading to bankruptcy court. They would have been better suited focusing their resources on fuel efficient cars, but that was just poor business planning. The conspiracy theory aspect of this story is limited, because it’s no secret businesses strive to make money.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm

The conspiratorial aspects are things like refusing to let EV1 owners buy the cars, even through they were just going to be destroyed. If GM wanted to make as much money as possible, it had nothing to lose by recouping construction and research costs through sales.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 1:42 pm

The film considers a list of ‘suspects’ who may have ‘killed’ the electric car, and comes to different conclusions for various ones:

Consumers: guilty
Batteries: not guilty
Oil companies: guilty
Car companies: guilty
Government: guilty
California Air Resources Board: guilty
Hydrogen fuel cell: guilty

As such, it shares the blame. It does, however, suggest that some kind of conspiracy to make electric vehicles unpopular existed, and involved some combination of oil companies, car companies, and elements of government.

. June 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Who Killed The Electric Car (2006)
Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Who Killed the Electric Car paints a disturbing picture of a promising technology, the electric car, murdered in plain sight of uncaring consumers by the greed and arrogance of big oil and big auto companies in collusion with underhanded and misguided politicians. Unfortunately, the movie paints mostly with the brushes of anecdotal evidence, innuendo, and emotional imagery. For example, we’re shown pictures of GM’s EV1 electric cars squealing their tires and burning rubber to convince us that it was a hot ride, but are never given a single number about the vehicle’s performance.

In fact, the EV1’s performance numbers were impressive. The 0-60 acceleration was a respectable 9 sec with a respectable 137 horsepower motor powering a light-weight vehicle with an aluminum frame. Although production models were regulated to a top speed of 80 mph, a prototype set an electric vehicle speed record of 183 mph. Compared to most cars drag coefficient (COD = .3 – .4), the EV1’s incredibly low drag coefficient of only 0.19 meant the car would have required very little energy to maintain highway speeds. Okay, in this case, the movie’s images agreed with the numbers, but providing the numbers would have boosted the movie’s credibility.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

The ISMP review does provide a good argument for why GM might want to destroy, rather than sell, the cars:

“Car companies are extremely conservative about releasing products before they’re fully debugged and tested for good reasons. Their cars stay on the road about 10 years and even minor defects that take years to detect can cost tens of millions of dollars in law suits, recalls, and bad publicity. The thought of having thousands of cars on the road and possibly having to recall and replace a major part like a battery pack, costing upwards of $20,000 each, at company expense, must have sent shivers down the spines of GM executives.”

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

What kind of car does this post’s photo come from? I quite enjoy the yellow colour.

Matt June 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

The conspiratorial aspects are things like refusing to let EV1 owners buy the cars, even through they were just going to be destroyed. If GM wanted to make as much money as possible, it had nothing to lose by recouping construction and research costs through sales.

Because it’s a GM product, they’re on the hook to support the vehicle, or be responsible for recalls, etc. By destroying the cars, they can fully discontinue support, and eliminate potential lawsuits. Similarly, when the car carrier ship Cougar Ace capsized, Mazda scrapped the shipment despite most cars being completely unharmed. It was just to avoid lawsuits.

The film considers a list of ’suspects’ who may have ‘killed’ the electric car, and comes to different conclusions for various ones…

Well, a film has to have entertainment value. I think the real reason for the demise of the EV1 is less ambiguous than the film presents.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 2:11 pm

What kind of car does this post’s photo come from?

Some sort of little Fiat. I think I have a photo at home that shows more of the vehicle.

Matt,

That does make sense, and the conspiracy angle is perhaps the most tenuous part of the film. I think it is much less debateable that another decade of active research and deployment of electric vehicles would have put GM and North American society in general in a stronger present position – especially if an economic recovery kicks off another jump in oil prices.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I don’t think the word “conspiracy” is being used in a stable way. There are two options – either use it in a way which doesn’t deny a priori the truth of claims made by conspiracy theorists (begging the question?), or stop using it altogether.

It seems quite obvious that oil interests “conspired” to kill the EV. What else do you call creating false consumer advocacy groups? How is that not “conspiring”?

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm

If “conspire” means get together to undermine the public interest, then there is little else corporations do. It is law, in fact, that they are to put shareholder interest above public interest – so for them to not to get together to undermine public interest when to do so would be in private interest could very well be illegal unless there are specific other laws forbidding collusion.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Two possible meanings for the word ‘conspiracy’ are relevant here:

  • Conspiracy (civil), an agreement between persons to deceive, mislead, or defraud others of their legal rights, or to gain an unfair advantage
  • Conspiracy (crime), an agreement between persons to break the law in the future, in some cases having committed an act to further that agreement

Having not seen the film (have you?), I don’t see how you can assess whether it provides evidence for either.

Regardless of the film, do you have evidence that any companies involved did either of these things, or do you just share my sense that it is plausible?

I think a ‘conspiracy theory’ is unproven by definition. The term refers to claims that lack sufficient evidence to be plausible, despite the belief of adherents to them that the claims contained within them are likely or confirmed.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I watched some of the film, including the part where oil companies mis represented themselves as consumer advocacy groups to discourage municipalities from building public charging stations. That would obtain on the first meaning of conspiracy.

Any planning between car companies for the sake of undermining the Californian state law, i.e. suing the state, brinksmanship etc… obtains on the 2nd definition.

I think a “conspiracy theory” is just a theory that the real reason behind some happening hasn’t been disclosed and it’s been covered up by people conspiring to keep the true cause of things unknown by the public. There are lots of conspiracy theories that are quite likely true – like the theory that the B-2 bomber had a lot to do with Nazi technology stolen by the Americans at the end of the war. You can’t prove it, but its almost certainly true. You could even argue that the secrecy there is in the public interest – but its secrecy is still a conspiring – and to theorize the existence of information which you can’t access because of people conspiring to secrecy is a conspiracy theory.

If its just a lack of evidence that makes conspiracy theories unproven, then its pretty unscientific to assume that they are untrue simply because they are unproven. We say things are true because they are true, not “things are true because we say of them they are true”. In other words, things are true whether or not we say of them they are true. Conspiracy theories are just theories were we can’t say of them they are true or not, but we can say why we can’t say of them they are true or not – and the scientific thing is demand that we have the information such that we can say of them their truth or falsity.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm

That’s neat that its a Fiat. I was going to guess a 70’s Ferrari, because that’s where I think I’ve seen that yellow before – but Fiat owned Ferrari in the 70s and it could be the very same colour.

Matt June 5, 2009 at 3:35 pm

But anyone can start a conspiracy theory, that can be very time consuming to disprove. In some cases, the people with the first hand knowledge to disprove something will be unwilling to spend their time on such rumours.

For instance, I think that the B-2s not only use Nazi technology, but are actual Nazi planes found abandoned in an an underground Bavarian hangar in 1945. Rather than copying them, the Americans decided to paint over the swastikas and just fly them as they were.

Now all I have to do is put the finishing touches on this conspiracy theory by saying, “I know it sounds far fetched, but it’s almost certainly true.” Voila, sindark.com is now home to cutting edge information about the stealth bomber program. In fact, the word ‘stealth’ really sexies the place up. So on that note, let me add the word ‘thermite.’

Milan June 5, 2009 at 3:45 pm

A general discussion of conspiracy theories is better suited to this thread: On conspiracy theories

The specific question of whether there was a conspiracy to eliminate electric cars in the US makes sense here.

It is worth noting that the film refers back to a previous hypothesis that car companies conspired to wreck public transit services, such as street cars. This theory does seem to have a fair bit of evidence supporting it.

It is also discussed in: Norton, Peter. Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Why is “the B 2’s are nazi planes” almost certainly true? It isn’t far fetched at all to think that the Nazi’s did development work on flying wing technology – it’s mainstream knowledge. It’s also mainstream knowledge that nazi technology was appropriated by the Americans at the end of the war.

I suppose the US development of flying wing technology could have proceeded completely independently of the flying wing technology they appropriated. That’s almost certainly untrue, for immediate intuitive reasons.

Which conspiracy theories are “far fetched”? Is it a conspiracy theory to say the Rosswell press release had the purpose of creating a public craze over aliens? That’s not far fetched at all, its a great public relations technique when you want to keep things secret which can’t be entirely hidden.

Conspiracy theories are never far fetched for a simple reason – they need be believable. They are inductive arguments of the form “recourse to best explanation”. They are not by their form alone, fallacious.

Is it a conspiracy theory to say the FBI strategically released information to JFK conspiracy theorist fanatics in order to divert attention away from real issues towards a meaningless assassination? I can’t remember if that’s a conspiracy theory, or if it came out of the public record – but the point is, it sounds true because its rational, i.e. it would be in someone’s interest to do that.

In journalism school, they teach you the mantra “Qui Bono” – who benefits? This is a good heuristic tool. But, as soon as it becomes questioning of anything fundamental about our social organization, we call it conspiracy theory. It’s just an unjustified double standard.

Tristan June 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Sorry, that last comment should have been on the other post.

Milan June 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm

A prior setback for electric vehicles: Electric buses and a turn-of-the-century villain

BuddyRich June 6, 2009 at 7:42 am

I think the most telling thing in the movie, that damned the oil companies was Texico (now owned by Chevron) buying the Ovianics (sp? i saw the movie almost 3 years ago now) battery patents and then refusing to make said batteries (in a domestic car application)… I think the company is called Cobasys now.

Now is that a “conspiracy” to kill the electric car or is it good business sense? I can’t answer that one but much like one of Tristan’s earlier posts, its an inherint conflict between private and public interest…

Some debate surrounds this collection of patents and when they expire and is often cited as why an all-electric vehicle can not be released until 2010 or 2012, and is what prevented Toyota from offering even a plug-in mode in the Prius hybrid before then (something hobbiest have been doing for years). Note that the patents are only applicable to NiMH batteries and Li-Ion is the future, though I think a NiMH solution is both much more affordable, longer lasting and usable for most applications, as Li-ion has barely gotten to the 260km range today in a purely serial mode. The Volt only has a range of what 40-60 miles when run completely off the battery? More if you use a parallel mode that uses gas to run a generator to recharge the battery, but then we are still dependent on oil for that. Then with Li-ion you have to worry about securing lithium, which is scarce enough and where deposits are mostly concentrated in SA (Bolivia holding the largest reserves). There was a good article in the NYT earlier this year about the economy of the next century being defined by the control of lithium but that is another topic of discussion…

Milan June 6, 2009 at 11:28 am

It certainly seems, sometimes, that patents do more harm than good in many cases.

Here is another recent possible example.

Tristan June 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

“but it is another thing entirely to prove that they actually took action in that direction.”

Are you going to produce any evidence or argument while you quickly absolve yourself of any connection from half the film? Or is the argument “conspiracy theories are unprovable”. What about the documented case of oil companies posing as consumer interest groups in town hall meetings? What about the entire account of sabotaging the advertising, and undermining the waiting lists, and shutting down the dealerships which were most promising first?

The car companies are on the same ethical level as cigarette companies, and we shouldn’t be surprised when they act it. It’s quite obvious that electric cars could already have replaced the bulk of the fleet, but they would have been much less in shareholder interest than the SUV craze has been. The fact that Tesla can build the car it can, and profit on it, proves that any major manufacturer could. It’s not like the people who work at Tesla are better engineers than those who worked on the EV1, it’s that their managers have different interests.

Car manufacturers actively try to get rid of legislation that reduces their profitability constantly, this isn’t new or a surprise, why in this case is it a onspiracy theory too far?

Milan June 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Firstly, I don’t think trying to change legislation to improve your profitability counts as a conspiracy in and of itself. Likewise, creating fake consumer groups may be ethically dubious, but I don’t think it reaches the bar.

By all means, provide evidence of deeper wrongdoing if you have it. That said, the rhetorical question of whether this was a ‘conspiracy’ or not really isn’t all that interesting.

It’s quite obvious that electric cars could already have replaced the bulk of the fleet, but they would have been much less in shareholder interest than the SUV craze has been. The fact that Tesla can build the car it can, and profit on it, proves that any major manufacturer could.

I don’t think this argument holds. Until someone has produced a mass market electric vehicle, we won’t know how difficult a task it really is. For instance, it such vehicles create a major increase in electricity demand, that might lead to major problems. It would be like how corn ethanol increases everybody’s food prices, leading to a backlash.

The fact that Tesla has promised (not delivered) a $100,000 electric car doesn’t make it ‘obvious’ that 1996-era electric vehicles could have already replaced the bulk of the North American vehicle fleet.

Tristan June 6, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Tesla’s have already been delivered to owners? It’s expensive, but its a car you can get on a waiting list to buy and many examples have already been shipped. It’s production and delivery schedule has been on par with other small manufacturers producing absurdly fast specialty vehicles.

The meaning of conspiracy has never been settled here. If by conspiracy we mean a group getting together to advance their mutual interest against the public interest – which incidentally is the meaning Smith used when he said that capitalists rarely get together but to conspire to raise prices – then even a meeting of car companies with the purpose of defeating public legislation which was in the public interest, for their private interest, is a conspiracy. If the private interest contradicts the public interest, and meeting to advance mutual interests is in violation of competition legislation, then it could also be a serious crime. There is nothing that says conspiracy has to be illegal – but if we define it as grouping together to subvert the general good, it’s going to always be wrong.

If we go by these dictionary definitions:

” * Conspiracy (civil), an agreement between persons to deceive, mislead, or defraud others of their legal rights, or to gain an unfair advantage
* Conspiracy (crime), an agreement between persons to break the law in the future, in some cases having committed an act to further that agreement

Then the civil definition is met by the false representation of consumer rights groups since it was deceptive, misleading.

And the crime definition is met if in any case at a meeting of executives they discussed simply refusing to comply with the minimum production of zero emissions vehicle regulation – because that would have been in violation of law. If the union gets together and decides all together that we aren’t going to comply by some law, believing that somehow many people breaking the law together will improve our position, we can be charged with conspiracy. Why when executives for GM do it, does it all of a sudden become not a conspiracy?

I really think your position is absurd here. It’s just a conspiracy, and conspiracies are totally normal. Again, Smith already knew that capitalists got together rarely for reasons other than to conspire.

Tristan June 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm

” The fact that Tesla can build the car it can, and profit on it, proves that any major manufacturer could.”

You mis read my argument here. My point is that any major manufacturer could deliver the same car Tesla has. GM has owned Lotus – who make the Elise on which the Tesla is based, and have so for years. In Europe, their is a GM version of the Lotus Elise you can buy, branded Vauxhall. And, any major manufacturer could deliver the same car GM did with the EV1. GM and Tesla engineers are not leagues better than other companies engineers. Electric cars were not mass marketed because they would not have been as profitable as SUVs or other large cars.

It is now completely common, public knowledge that large cars and SUVs are liked by U.S. car companies because the profit margins are wider. This is out in the open now because it is the substance of the conflict over Obama and Fiat owning Chrysler and having a political interest in the production of small cars – when other Chrysler shareholders, including Fiat, have a financial interest in concentrating their resources on bigger cars because they are simply more profitable.

If you want an idea of how profitable small cars are in the U.S., I know for a fact that GM sold Sunfires at a loss for years before the introduction of the pursuit. The dealer I worked at made money, but General Motors lost money. And, I know that Pursuits are now as cheap as Sunfires ever were – and its not like costs have gone down that much – I’d venture that GM is selling Pursuits (competes with the Honda Civic) at a loss. So, in short, GM has not sold small cars at a profit, consistently, for ages.

Tristan June 7, 2009 at 2:00 am

“By all means, provide evidence of deeper wrongdoing if you have it”

I think this is a deep confusion. There is nothing particularly evil about a conspiracy – you could also conspire to do good. But, fair enough, we have been talking amoung other things about the “crime” meaning of conspiring. But even there, is it particularly more evil to conspire to commit a crime and then commit it somehow in a cohort, as opposed to committing a crime on your own? In some cases the fact conspiring occured might make the issue much more serious, but I don’t see grounds for in general assuming that conspiracies are more ethically dubious than crimes which don’t involve conspiring.

Milan June 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

The car is a Fiat 850. It is often parked just around the corner from here.

Tristan June 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm

An ideal candidate for an electric conversion!

. June 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Our peak oil future? Electric vehicle startup unveils Chinese-made, $45K ‘economy’ car

The Coda sedan, which resembles a previous-generation Honda Civic, is a highway-ready, 80 mph five-seater that will travel 90 to 120 miles on a charge, according to the company.

And it is likely to be the first Chinese-made car to hit American roads. The car’s 333-volt lithium ion battery pack comes from the Tianjin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Co., a huge state-owned corporation that supplies batteries to Apple and other consumer electronics companies. Coda has established a joint venture with Tianjin Lishen to design and sell batteries for transportation and utility storage. The sedan’s design, brand and intellectual property will be owned by Coda, but it will be manufactured and assembled in China by Hafei, a state-owned automobile and aircraft manufacturer.

. June 11, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Electrifying cars: How three industries will evolve

Upon entering the mainstream—in a few years or a couple of decades—electrified cars will transform the auto and utilities sectors and create a new battery industry. What will it take to win in a battery-powered age?

JUNE 2009 • Russell Hensley, Stefan Knupfer, and Dickon Pinner

Source: Climate Change Special Initiative

It’s a safe bet that consumers will eventually swap their gas-powered cars and trucks for rechargeable models. Electrified transport, in some form, would seem to be in our future. But how long will investors have to wait for the bet to pay off? Years? Decades?

Bears would bet on decades. For the next ten or so years, the purchase price of an electrified vehicle will probably exceed the price of an average gas-fueled family car by several thousand dollars. The difference is due largely to the cost of designing vehicles that can drive for extended distances on battery power and to the cost of the battery itself. What’s more, the infrastructure for charging the batteries of a large number of electrified vehicles isn’t in place, nor is the industry tooled to produce them on a mass scale. In any case, consumers aren’t exactly clamoring for battery-powered sedans (see sidebar “From well to wheel”).

. June 23, 2009 at 4:25 pm

June 22, 2009, 4:38 pm
Tesla Says It Will Turn Profit Next Month
By Jim Motavalli

Tesla Motors has been mired in lawsuits, seemingly from the company’s inception. The latest was filed this month by Martin Eberhard, the company’s co-founder, who is no longer with the company, against Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive.

On Monday, Mr. Musk wrote a lengthy blog post, responding to Mr. Eberhard’s legal action. And while the back-and-forth on Tesla’s history makes for interesting theater, the blog post contains a useful prediction about Tesla’s future: Mr. Musk said that he expected the company to be profitable next month.

Milan June 30, 2009 at 11:20 am

Here is an interesting discussion of battery packs for electric vehicles.

One critical factor is the energy density of the batteries:

“The upper curve shows the result for a battery whose energy density is 40 Wh/kg (old-style lead-acid batteries). The range is limited by a wall at about 500 km. To get close to this maximum range, we have to take along comically large batteries: for a range of 400 km, for example, 2000 kg of batteries are required, and the transport cost is above 25 kWh per 100 km. If we are content with a range of 180 km, however, we can get by with 500 kg of batteries. Things get much better when we switch to lighter lithium-ion batteries. At an energy density of 120 Wh/kg, electric cars with 500 kg of batteries can easily deliver a range of 500 km. The transport cost is predicted to be about 13 kWh per 100 km.”

. July 17, 2009 at 10:30 am

Crudely streamlined Honda Civic reduces drag
Posted by Mark Frauenfelder, July 16, 2009 1:24 PM

While browsing for horn modifications for my ’08 Honda Civic Hybrid, I came across this extreme body modification to a 1992 Honda Civic CX. It may look like an Aptera’s older road-weary brother; but the builder claims to have increased his drag coefficient from 0.34 to 0.17! Resulting in over 90 mpg! Just like my expensive hybrid!*”

* – (With the wind. Downhill. With the AC off.)

. July 30, 2009 at 10:33 am

The EV1 was a marvel of engineering, absolutely the best electric vehicle anyone had ever seen. Built by GM to comply with California’s zero-emissions-vehicle mandate, the EV1 was quick, fun, and reliable. It held out the promise that soon electric cars — charged from the grid with all sorts of groovy power sources, like wind and solar — could replace the smelly old internal-combustion vehicle. And therein lies the problem: the promise. In fact, battery technology at the time was nowhere near ready to replace the piston-powered engine. The early car’s lead-acid bats, and even the later nickel-metal hydride batteries, couldn’t supply the range or durability required by the mass market. The car itself was a tiny, super-light two-seater, not exactly what American consumers were looking for. And the EV1 was horrifically expensive to build, which was why GM’s execs terminated the program — handing detractors yet another stick to beat them with. GM, the company that had done more to advance EV technology than any other, became the company that “killed the electric car.”

. August 9, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Tesla Motors Turns a Profit For the First Time

Tesla Motors has reported earning a profit for the first time in its six-year history. Sales of the $109,000 Roadster earned the company $20 million in revenue, which settled out to $1 million in profits. “Most of that money rolled in after Tesla delivered cars customers had already placed deposits on. Although the company has, according to spokeswoman Rachel Konrad, seen a ‘surge’ in orders for the Roadster and the higher-performance Roadster Sport (price: $127,500), it isn’t likely to keep rolling cars out so quickly. Konrad says Tesla is ‘definitely on pace’ to meet its goal of 1,000 to 1,200 cars a year but didn’t say when that might happen. Tesla has so far delivered about 609 Roadsters since production started in March, 2008.” The company is working on a new ‘Model S’ sedan, with the help of $465 million in government loans, and has also entered into a partnership with Daimler to help the German auto company produce electric Smart cars.

. September 22, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Who Owns Our Low Carbon Future? Intellectual Property and Energy Technologies

Chatham House Report
Bernice Lee, Ilian Iliev and Felix Preston, September 2009

Ensuring access to climate-friendly technologies at affordable prices is a critical issue for international public policy – and one that cuts across economic, legal, security and geopolitical concerns. To keep the rise in average global temperatures below 2C, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2020 and be reduced to 50-85 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050. Achieving these ambitious targets requires a critical mass of low carbon investment, innovation and deployment that meets mid- and long-term goals. The implications for corporate strategies and business models are profound.

This report examines two issues: patent ownership of climate-friendly technologies, and the rate of technology diffusion. A polarized debate continues between proponents of strengthening intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes to encourage innovation of climate technologies on the one hand, and those calling for more IP-related flexibilities to ensure access to key technologies by developing countries on the other.

. June 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Tesla has announced that their business model has failed. Their basic idea was to sell a boutique electric car to fund the development of a regular consumer electric car. With this announcement they are saying that they did not sell enough of the Roadster to make producing it profitable. If that is the case, it is only a matter of time until Tesla closes its doors. I thought their approach was the most likely to create a successful fully electric car. Although it is possible that the technology they have developed will allow the existing car companies to develop successful fully electric cars, it is a shame that Tesla has failed to become a successful car manufacturer.

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