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07 June 2008

OPINION - The Writing Was on the Wall...

The writing was on the wall, but GM couldn't read it.

It has nothing to do with the lack of technology. Between 1996-1999, GM produced over 1,000 units of the GM EV1. This was an electric car available in California and Arizona for lease only. This was based on a design created by AeroVironment called the GM Impact.

Based in Monrovia, California--just outside of Los Angeles but within Los Angeles County, AeroVironment Inc. was founded in 1971 and is known for developing human-powered and solar-powered vehicles.

Not far away, in San Dimas, California, is AC Propulsion, the company that developed the tzero--a prototype yellow EV sports car. Only three exist and all three still run. From this came the Tesla limited edition electric sports car which uses the AC Propulsion technology.

The GM EV1 was taken away from the people who had leased them. GM refused to sell them and instead destroyed all but a few that were taken to museums. Why didn't GM have the foresight to continue development of the electric vehicle, even if they knew about the Smart car, a neighborhood electric vehicles?

Why didn't they allow people to buy a car they were going to crush. This is essentially the question that Chris Paine asked in his 2006 movie, Who Killed the Electric Car? Paine had owned and loved his EV1, but like Mel Gibson, was forced to give his up.

When the news came out that GM was
closing four truck and SUV plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and cutting jobs,
I emailed Paine to ask for his reaction.

His response was quick.

In short two old cliches come to mind.
the writing was on the...
the chickens have come home to...

American car makers ignored early warning signs about peak oil and kept betting almost everything on their big profit margin SUVS and trucks. The fact that they willfully destroyed their own electric cars programs in the 1990s in spite of objections from their own board members and so many enthusiasts, makes them especially culpable.

We'll see if they can scramble fast enough to meet the realities of the changing world. Its a fascinating story with many players - which is how our first film came to life. And the story continues...

GM came out with an EV for the U.S. marketplace before Toyota came out with the Prius.

Now with the Prius out and plans for a consumer-ready plug-in Prius projected for 2010, GM is trying to catch up. That will come too late for the estimated 10,000 workers who will lose their jobs.

According to the AP article,

CEO Rick Wagoner said Tuesday before the automaker's annual meeting in Delaware the plants to be idled are in Oshawa, Ontario; Moraine, Ohio; Janesville, Wis.; and Toluca, Mexico. He also said the iconic Hummer brand will be reviewed and potentially sold or revamped.

Paine's movie noted that although there were financial incentives for buying an EV, the incentives were greater for the Hummer. That kind of planning is what got us where we are--dependent upon gas vehicles when we knew that fossil fuels would eventually run out. The promise of solar energy which can be converted into electricity has been always something for the future.

Recently, one plant was shut down due to a worker protest. Perhaps this protest comes too late. We should have been protesting, demanding better mileage and cars that looked toward a future without oil or gas, a time when fossil fuels would be gone and/or pollution would be destroying the world.

The writing was on the wall of the future, GM couldn't read it. Neither could most Americans. We knew this would happen in the future, but Americans weren't building bullet trains for better public transportation. We weren't demanding a move toward a less oil dependent future. We've been distracted by the promise of hydrogen when we had the technology for EVs. We can't wait 30 years for hydrogen technology to develop. The future is now and EV technology is ready if we are willing, as consumers and as voters, to demand a change.

If you haven't seen this movie, it's available on DVD. Learn more about plug-ins and EV technology at Plug In America.

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