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Third Birthday Party for the EV1

Doing something for three years in a row qualifies it as a tradition, in my book; General Motors Advanced Technology Vehicles (GMATV) and Saturn, the folks responsible for the EV1 electric car, have established a tradition of birthday parties celebrating the first leases of the car on 5 December 1996. I'm lucky to have been able to attend all three so far; the 1999 celebration was held in the Globe Theater at Universal Studios, Hollywood.

Three colors of NiMH EV1

Here's Amanda Krusoe, an EV1 Team Leader from northern California, greeting arrivals outside, in front of three of the 1999 models (one in each of the three colors--first time I've seen that!) with advanced nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. These vehicles were actually rolled out last year at the 1998 birthday party, but an extended "engineering validation" period resulted in their release to the public only in the last couple of weeks, nearly a year later. Several new lessees took delivery at the 1999 birthday party, to much applause, especially from early lessees who have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to upgrade their 1997 models (whose three-year leases are just now ending) to the advanced-battery 1999 models.

Land-speed record Impact

There were several cars on display, including of course the new EV1s (both with NiMH and with improved lead-acid batteries); the car above, which set a new land speed record for electric vehicles in 1994 at 183 MPH, was also there. This is one of the Impact prototype cars that led to the EV1; you can see that it is quite similar to the production vehicles, and in fact this particular example was only minimally modified for its record-breaking run. Gearing was slightly changed, an extra battery or two was added, the wheels were covered with "lakes style" caps, and a safety cage, seat, and harness replaced the interior; I think a tailcone was also added to reduce drag. Of course, the 80 MPH "governor" in the regular cars was also disconnected! I'm told by folks who regularly drive the EV1 that the experience of accelerating to the governor limit is quite strange; the car will really push you back into your seat when you floor it, right up to the instant when it quits accelerating as it "tops out" at 80 MPH and you suddenly pop back out of your seatback cushion! In the background of this photo you can see the new Chevrolet Triax concept car, and a Triax rolling chassis next to it...

Chevrolet Triax concept car

...here's a closer view. This concept vehicle is designed for flexible production; in particular, three completely different drivetrains could be built into the vehicle on the same production line. The complete vehicle shown has a hybrid-electric drive system, with an electric motor driving the front wheels and a 660 cc turbocharged 3-cylinder gasoline engine (integrated with a smaller electric motor) driving the rear wheels; the rolling chassis also shown has pure electric power, with the same electric motor up front and an identical electric motor replacing the rear internal-combustion engine drive, and it could also be built with a simple 1-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine and no electric power. The complete vehicle is right-hand drive, having been premiered at the recent Tokyo Auto Show (a first for GM), and the rolling chassis is left-hand drive.

Generation III electric drivetrain in Triax

The really cool thing about the rolling chassis was that it contained the Generation III electric drivetrain (1997 EV1s and electric S-10 pickups had Generation I, the just-released 1999's have Generation II); the two small boxes, the auxiliary power module at the left and the main power electronics box to the right in the photo of the rear powertrain above, replace the one significantly larger Generation II electronics box, which in turn was half the size and cost of the Generation I box. Movin' in the right direction, folks! These motors are smaller than that in the EV1, with about one-third the power from each of the two motors (total of 2/3); however, I was told that the size and cost of the electronics boxes should be about the same for the large performance-oriented motor in the EV1.

Having been interested in the GM electric car since its preproduction days as the Impact concept car, I have gotten to know a lot of the people involved with the project over the years; these birthday parties, and other electric-vehicle or EV1 Club events I have attended, have a nice "reunion" feel to them for me now. In particular, I got to talk with Rick Ostrov, Ken Stewart, Tiffany O'Day, and other folks I knew from GMATV and Saturn (and thanks for inviting me!); Terry O'Day and Joseph Borges, my old friends from EV Rental Cars; Kris Trexler, who drove his EV1 from Los Angeles to Michigan in 1998's Charge Across America; Ed Begley, Jr., whom I had met at the Malibu road trip held by the EV1 Club and whom I took the opportunity to pump for information about natural-gas refueling stations in southern Oregon; and CE Raum, Greg Hanssen, and Bill Korthof, who had just finished driving CE's and Greg's EV1s from Los Angeles to Florida in their "EV Odyssey." The biggest surprise was when I saw a familiar name on the nametag of Jill Banaszynski, one of the folks welcoming people to the party; in the early '90's when she and her husband Jeff worked at the GM Advanced Concepts Center here in southern California, he came to Caltech where I was a graduate student and gave a talk on the Impact prototype electric vehicle, which was the first big push that got me interested in alternative fuels! So if you're reading this, Jeff, many thanks; "now look what you made me do!"

Third birthday cake for EV1

Of course, no birthday celebration is complete without a cake! We also sang "Happy Birthday, dear EV1", and had a toast to the car, the team, and three amazing years. Several awards were also handed out, including the Arizona folks sweeping the "longest distance traveled in an EV1 to attend this party" contest, and GMATV's first Friend of the Environment Award, which was given to Ed Begley, Jr. for his thirty or so years of environmental activism and leadership. Way to go, Ed! I've been in this game for maybe one fifth that long; I hope that when I reach thirty years of (lower-profile) activism a quarter century or so into the new millennium, alternative energy sources and motor vehicles using them will be so common as to be completely unremarkable. That'd be a nice problem to have...

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new 5 December 1999