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Book Report: The Car That Could

Discussion in 'Electric Vehicles' started by tonybelding, Oct 21, 2007.

  1. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    I just got through reading The Car That Could: The Inside Story of GM's Revolutionary Electric Vehicle, by Michael Shnayerson. It's out of print, but well worth hunting down a copy.

    I don't think there's any other book like this. Basically this author had inside access to the whole Impact/EV1 program, and he's relaying the kind of info that we'd never normally learn: the corporate politics, the national politics, the personality clashes, the engineering hang-ups, the processes that any car has to go through as it's brought from concept to production. This really is the stuff outsiders never see.

    The story begins with a brief recap of the Sunraycer, proceeds with the original Impact show car, and then covers the entire, drawn-out, on-and-off-and-on-again process of turning it into the EV1. Prior to reading this book I had no idea what an epic journey the EV1 underwent to reach production. It's a minor miracle.

    There's an underlying irony that the author did not intend. The book has a happy ending, with the first production EV1s rolling off the assembly line. After so many trials, the forces of enlightenment and progress have triumphed. Now the way has been paved for a bright future of clean cars for everyone -- and a bright future for a shiny new GM, reborn as the technological and environmental leader of the automotive world.

    But of course, everybody reading the book today knows what followed after that, and how GM ultimately managed to snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory. It casts the entire story in a different light. There's plenty of foreshadowing here. Even before I was a third through the book it had become painfully obvious that GM is its own worst enemy.

    I also got my nose rubbed in just how hard it is to create an electric car -- a proper car, a manufacturable and sellable car, not a car-show "concept" or a kit-car experiment or a homebrew conversion. Time after time I read about problems GM had to overcome, and I found myself thinking, "Tesla must have had to wrestle with stuff like this too." At least Tesla have a rough map to follow. GM were in uncharted territory with the EV1.

    My biggest difficulty was keeping up with all the characters. There were a large number of people involved in this story, and that's no fault of the author. The author does his best to paint a word-sketch of each major player, to make them memorable, but the device itself becomes tiresome after a while. I think a dramatis personae for easy reference would have made the book more manageable.
     
  2. DDB

    DDB Member

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    I know must people here would jump all over this thought...but sometimes I wonder how difficult it would be for GM to do a re-release of the EV-1 with today's battery improvements. Wonder what it could cst to manufacture today.
     
  3. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    The EV1's cost was all about volume -- or lack of same. GM were producing two cars a day. They spent hundreds of millions bringing it to production, then produced 1,117 units. That kind of approach wouldn't make any more economic sense today than it did the first time around.

    The only thing that could save it would be if today's market conditions are so much more favorable to an electric vehicle that GM could sell a buttload of them, and therefore put it into some kind of real mass-production. There's talk of GM producing 60,000 e-flex cars in the platform's first year. That's the kind of business GM is in, and those are the kinds of numbers they need to make a business case.

    By the way. . . It seems to me that GM could rather easily take the Chevy Volt and replace the "range extender" with more batteries, and make it into a pure BEV. I presume it wouldn't be as highly-tuned for efficiency as the EV1. Still. . . With lithium-based batteries, it might at least match the EV1's range. The cost of developing this would be small enough that it could actually make sense to offer a sort of "Chevy Volt EV2 Special Edition" for those who want it. It would be a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to restart production of the EV1!
     
  4. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    Tony gives a fine review of the book that I've been raving about. I would say it should be required reading for any fan of Electric Vehicles. It puts it all into perspective. Through the EV1 the reader learns all that it takes to build an Electric Vehicle then add in the painfully dysfunctional schizophrenial corporate culture of GM at the time. Also the politics both inside the company and out.

    The big oil companies get some mention (he sas they are called the Oilies) and how they spent millions to kill the CARB mandate while GM silently watched.


    Be informed. Read this book!

    PS
    A note of caution. The author is the same guy who wrote that Vanity Faire article the was panned by Carolyn Eberhard. She said the Martin was never even interviewed for that one.
     
  5. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    (I looked for an EV1 thread to put this post)

    A commenter on another page wrote this:

    sunuse1
    Sep 10 10:06 PM
    I worked on the original prototype Bill of Material for the EV! at GM. The real reason it got cancelled is because the suppliers didn't want it then and don't want it now. At that time there was something like 20,000 parts in a 5.7 liter corvette Bill of Material and only a few hundred parts to make up the motor and batteries for the EV1 so you do the math. If you can give GM $25 billion to give $24 billion to the executives at GM..
    I guess they will do you a favor and remake an electric car and screw the suppliers. Wagner just got a 40% pay increase two months ago which brings him to $17 million a year. At some point we should figure it out, the money only goes to the executives at GM not the employes....

    Origin page:
    Cashing In on the Electric Transport Boom - Seeking Alpha
     

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