Who killed the Hybrid Plug-in? A sequel

Tue, 2007-07-10 13:50Kevin Grandia
Kevin Grandia's picture

Who killed the Hybrid Plug-in? A sequel

For those of you haven’t seen the film Who Killed the Electric Car , the premise is quite simple and by the looks of things, it’s a premise that could repeat itself in the next decade or so.

The film tells a story about the EV1 a fully electric, zero emissions vehicle developed by General Motors and leased to Californians in the mid-1990s. There were hundreds on the road with electric charging stations available in much of the state.

The EV1 was developed in response to new legislation introduced by the State that demanded a certain percentage of new cars sold in California be zero emission vehicles.

While at the same time as the EV1 was being marketed and enjoyed by thousands in the state, the auto manufacturers (including General Motors) were working quietly behind the scenes with their team of lawyers and lobbyists to reverse, or at least severely water-down, the zero emission vehicle law.

In the end, the auto manufacturers won and General Motors canceled production of the EV1 shortly after. GM then collected up all the EV1's from owners when their leases expired. Even cash on the barrel offers to buy the EV1’s from General Motors were rejected by the company.

Today, there’s a similar situation in California, and in many other states across the US. While automakers tout new, environmentally-friendly technology, they have quietly been involved in a lawsuit against the State of California over a new law that would force new vehicles to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards. Many of the other states who have introduced similar legislation are also being sued by the same cast of characters.

You can go here for more in-depth timeline and the actual court documents.

The latest emission-cutting technology being touted by Detroit is the “hybrid plug-in” (HPI) vehicle, a kind of three-quarter electric, one-quarter gas powered compromise. Ford Motor announced today that they would be developing an HPI that would hit showroom floors in the next 5 to 10 years. General Motors and Toyota have made similar commitments to develop and sell HPI technology.

So far, over the past 17 years, promises of new technology, while fighting against mandatory regulation of vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards appears to be the preferred strategy of the auto industry.

Here’s the timeline:

1990: California introduces the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, calling for 2% of all new cars to be zero emissions by 1998

1996: General Motors introduces the EV1, a fully electric car, in California

2001: Amidst heavy industry lobbying, the California Air Resource Board waters down original ZEV laws and allows for partial ZEV credit for hybrid vehicles

2002: Gov. Gray Davis introduces new legislation calling for stricter standards on greenhouse gas emissions for vehicles.

2003: California Air Resource Board waters down ZEV laws again by removing the requirement for electric vehicles.

2003: General Motors shuts down EV1 program

2004: Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (representing Ford, Toyota, GM etc.) files suit against the State of California over the 2002 legislation introduced by Gray Davis. The suit continues today.

July, 2006: Toyota says it will produce a “plug-in hybrid”

November, 2006: General Motors announces that it will introduce a “plug-in hybrid” by 2009

July, 2007: Ford Motor Company announces that it will introduce a plug-in by 2017

Over the same 17 years, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles has continued to increase and fuel efficiency standards have remained the same.

So are we seeing a sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car? in the making. With auto manufacturers saying one thing in the public eye and another thing in the courtrooms, it sure looks to be that way. Or at the least, the public has every right to be wary about promises by automakers of possible environmental friendliness at some point in the future.

Personally, I believe in the old adage that humans never learn from past mistakes and 15 years from now I’ll be driving my daughters (in a gas-powered car) to see “Who Killed the Plug-in Hybrid,” the whole time complaining that it’s not nearly as exciting as the original.

Previous Comments

Hot damn, I love conspiracies!

Fifty years ago, every crackpot with a good home workshop claimed to have invented a 100mpg carburetor, and the oil companies and auto manufacturers were said to be spending vast sums to buy up the patents and ensure that these miraculous devices never saw the light of day.

Same old, same old.

Ah, the ol' conspiracy theory default defense. Love it! 

Defense? WTF? I have nothing to defend.

You’re the professional propagandist peddling delusions to the paranoid segment of the public that eagerly accepts any fairy tale about the machinations of the evil “THEM”. Indefensible.

“…professional propagandist peddling delusions to the paranoid segment of the public that eagerly accepts any fairy tale about the machinations of the evil “THEM

Good job Zog! 

“Now that’s a conspiracy theory.”

Say what?

It takes at least two to constitute a conspiracy. My comment was directed at Kevin Grandia, individual PR flack for the Suzukians. You have an exaggerated opinion of your own importance.

Could your Suzukian paymasters be classified as a conspiracy? I don’t think so. They are merely a bunch of sociopathic Luddites mutually attracted by their contempt for humanity and by their common rejection of reason - not an organized cabal.

Nobody killed the electric car, least of all General Motors. They sunk a massive amount of money into that project, and if they had continued with the EV1, would have lost billions more. Government can do that, a business can not.

All electric was too big a step for the mass market, which is why hybrids are a more progressive interim step. Much of the technology GM developed with the EV1 is being integrated into their soon-to-debut two-mode hybrids, and will also find it’s way into plug-in hybrids when it is economically feasible.

Blaming Exxon and blaming car companies all the time is a blinkered view of the world which denies that it is we, the consumers, who are the true culprits on this issue. Regards,

I remember reading a newspaper item, with pictures of GE scientists, announcing that General Electric would produce a battery to drive an electric car within five years. That was about 1970. Can anybody else remember that?
The electric car is not dead and neither is the plug-in hybrid. Tesla and Phoenix Motors will both be introducing electric vehicles this year. As far as plug-ins, GM has just signed a deal with a lithium-ion battery maker for its plug-in cars and several companies already sell plug-in conversions. Hymotion will have a plug-in conversion kit on the market in 2008.

Plug in cars sound interesting. Would also be interesting to see how compressed air powered cars fare in North America. Its been 9 months since I first about these being slated for production by India’s Tata motors - not once have I seen any media coverage in that timeframe, but it sure seems to me like big news. Would be nice to have a windmill drive my air compressor at the cottage too! http://www.theaircar.com/tata_agreement.html

I wasn’t able to watch this movie, but I got plan on renting an original DVD. No wonder why plug-in hybrids got so much popular these days to the car-buying public. This are far more economical than the fuel-dependent vehicles. I got plans on purchasing either a toyota prius or an oem toyota parts.

Because of the current economic crisis that the world is experiencing more companies are doing massive lay-offs of workers that give rise to the unemployment rate. There is now a speculation surrounding some of the large firms that got government funded easy loans. GM and Chrysler both got themselves into trouble, and yet are asking for even more in easy loans from the taxpayers.  The speculation is that the two companies will merge.  Chrysler and GM have both been dropping their underperforming brands. Some, like Saab, have just left outright and Opel is rumored to be the next to leave GM.  Both are laying off more workers, and asking for more federal funds.  There may not be enough Cash Advance Loans to save them both if they don’t merge.

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