History Repeats Itself . . . Again

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Electric cars aren’t new – and neither are their problems.

Back in the mid-1990s, I experienced them firsthand – which gives me some standing to comment on them today. To specifically make the comment that very little has changed in the roughly quarter-century (tempus fugit) that’s flown by since I was a young car journalist.

I am now a middle-aged car journalist – and while my belly has gotten bigger and my need for naps, greater – electric cars are still practically and economically uncompetitive with cars that use batteries for starting engines – and motors for spinning fans – as was the case back in 1996, when the “Gen I” EV1 came out.

I can say this because I actually drove the thing when it was the latest thing – unlike probably nine out of ten of the journalists writing hagiographically about the thing today, some 25 years after the fact. Because most of the ones writing stuff today weren’t old enough to drive anything back in ’96.

Back then, I was also driving a ’74 Beetle – which was then 22 years old. Its gas tank held about 10 gallons and that meant it could go about 280 miles on a fill-up, averaging around 26 MPG. The fill-up cost about $12 (ten gallons at about $1.20 per) and the fill-up took less than five minutes.

As it does now.

Today, 25 years down the road, most electric cars still can’t go as far as my ’74 Beetle on a single charge – and the few that can take a lot longer than less than five minutes to recharge.

It is the wait rather than the range that remains the single biggest practical problem with electric cars – today.

As it was, then.

Wherever you went in the EV1, where you were going to have to stop was always on your mind.

As is the case today.

The typical new electric car does go farther than the EV1’s roughly 100 mile range. But not very much farther. Most have a range of 150-200 miles or so. Under ideal conditions. Not too cold, not too hot – and not too fast.

And then you wait.

Just like back then.

To offset the wait,  an electric car would arguably need to be capable of going at least 400 miles on a charge – on the highway, at 75-80 MPH highway speeds, heat cranking or AC blasting  – to be practically competitive with a non-electric car capable of going 300 miles on a tank  . . . to make up for the time that would otherwise be lost waiting for an EV that could only go 300 miles before it had to stop – and made its owner wait – for at least 30-45 minutes before it could get going again.

The so-called “fast” charge. A hilarity of prose right up there with the “Patriot” Act.

The slow charge problem hasn’t been solved and will remain insoluble unless some way is discovered to safely instill extremely high voltage extremely quickly into extremely finicky electric car batteries.

There is no evidence such a “breakthrough” is pending or even possible, given the chemistry of the batteries in use and the fire safety issues and longevity issues involved in charging them any “faster” than the 30-45 minutes it takes to “fast” charge them now.

That was true in ’96 – and it’s no less true today. Because while it is true that batteries have “improved” they are still fundamentally batteries.

It is extremely unlikely they will ever “improve” to parity with gasoline in terms of how much time it takes to “refill” an electric car’s “tank.” It will take something entirely new – something very much along the lines of Mr. Fusion from the Back to the Future movies – for electric cars to be other than very slow to recharge – vs. how quickly a gas-powered car can be refueled.

Same then; not much different now.

Also, the expense. What you pay, for less – in the way of range  – and in the way of time, for the wait.

Driving the EV1 was expensive both ways. Would I make it home? Would I make it to work?  Who could afford that?

Or the car, itself?

I paid $700 (used) for my ’74 Beetle back in the early ’90s. That’s about as much as a young guy recently graduated from college could afford to spend – without taking out a loan. I never had to worry about the wait – except for DC area traffic – and never had to worry about my VW “bricking” in DC traffic, because I wasn’t able to make it to a plug in time. Sixty year old technology – the VW, in the ’90s – was superior to the latest technology.

And today, too.


Also as regards the effect on finances.

The EV1’s base price back in ’96 was $33,995 – equivalent to about $58,000 in today’s bankster-depreciated dollars. This is why GM leased the EV1 to “buyers.” Very few people could afford to buy one.

And the same is true today, a quarter-century later.

The most “affordable” models – like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt – sticker for close to $40,000 (assuming you want to be able to drive farther than 150 miles on a charge) which means most are leased, again – so as to make them seem more “affordable.” In fact, they are impoverishing. People in serial debt are people who do not own – and those who do not own are by definition enserfed.

Very little has changed – except that back in ’96, the press knew a lemon when it sucked one.

Also, the EV1 didn’t have the muscle of Uncle behind it. GM had trouble finding people willing to be enserfed and so the EV1 never made it very far.

In more than one way.

But GM learned – and has acted on – a valuable lesson: It is much easier to sell people something they have to buy.

That’s the main thing that’s changed since 1996.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. It was a long time ago and I did see the receipt. He also somehow got fired a month or 6 later, the Fed being efficient like that…

  2. Eric,

    “Because most of the ones writing stuff today weren’t old enough to drive anything back in ’96”

    I imagine some moved to your field of endeavor when the United States Information Agency folded in 1999.

    I’d hazard a guess that many are currently involved in producing propaganda about the glories of EVs. Here and abroad.

    You just know the mask/vax bullshit is being pumped out by experienced professionals.

    Did they change the name of VOA to Voice of the World yet?

    • Hi T,

      I’m just old enough to have gotten into car journalism when it was still almost entirely the province of men who loved/understood cars, worked on them, raced them, had a hand in designing them, even. It was not a bailiwick for dilettantes. If you didn’t know cars, everyone else knew – and you got nowhere, fast.

      It changed quickly. I can recall a few specific examples. USA Today hired a woman named Jayne O’Donnell to write car reviews. Her main qualification being a big rack. Her stuff was awful; not just the prose, either. She was one of the first of the “mommy blogger” types; various similar followed – all of them united by being unfit for the work but qualified to be Woke (though that word was still 20 years to come). Affection for and knowledge of cars – and of driving – was replaced with obsession about saaaaaaaaaaaaafety and MPGs and demographics. I’ve mentioned previously the weird phenomenon of African Americans on Wheels.

      The old guys began to retire. There were only a few younger guys like me replacing them (Dan Carney is another; he’s a good dude). As standards fell and media “Woke,” there were more opportunities for people who had as much business writing – sic – about cars as the pope has at a singles bar. Even bastions of gas and oil such as Car & Driver were turned into Car & Clover.

      It’s often depressing. I feel like the Scharnhorst must’ve in ’43. But I’ll fight to the last shell, too!

  3. If electric vehicles are mandated … then much of the imperative to improve their design, is lost. See: Soviet Union for further details.

    ”Their’ wider goal is the prohibition of all personal motorized transport. Within the decade, it won’t matter to us ‘which is better’, since all options will be unavailable to ordinary men. There is no alternative to prohibition, if the proposed Climate Goals are to be reached. This, of course, will be augmented by a startling decrease in Global population.

    • Hi bog,

      You’ve summarized it neatly. I wish more could see – and understand. I think the reason they don’t is because it is hard to grasp such evil. That people are capable of such things. But they are.

    • Bogbeagle,

      Yes, the “Climate Goals”… Fox news ran a story this morning, about how “Epicurious”, which I am led to believe is a recipe website, will no longer feature recipes made with beef, because The Earth, obviously.

      I hope that is their death knell.

  4. An election to recall Emperor Gavin Newsom — who single-handedly purported to ban future ICE sales by executive ukase — has been officially triggered after petitions were counted.

    ‘Sigh. The bitter, costly — and probably very silly — recall nightmare begins,’ whimpers the La La Land Times.

    It’s a great day for the people when the tears of liberal journo clowns are flowing like rain. Their nightmare is our Elysian fields, with white unicorns gamboling under rainbow-studded skies, and vintage vehicles for all.

    Goodbye, Gavin. It’s payback time, sucker!

    • Hi Jim,

      I hope so – in re Newsome. But he will probably be succeeded by another Dapper Dan pomaded shyster leftist. California is a beautiful place, geographically. So was Russia in 1918.

      • Jim, Eric – is it true that he can simply re-run and be re-elected ? I mean 1.5 million sane people in California who recalled him – but im sure there are many more idiots who want more of the same!!

        But yeh Eric is right – California is such a beautiful place. I hope if they allow us to travel without the jab to get out there this summer to see my brother…..

        • Newsom hasn’t been officially recalled yet. What the signatures mean is that the question will be on the ballot in the fall. It will ask “Do you want to recall Newsom?” If a majority vote no, then that is the end of it. If a majority vote yes then the ballot asks which candidate you would like to vote for. In that case, the winner just needs to get a plurality of the votes and given how many candidates are expected to be on the ballot, a candidate might only need around 30% to win. But getting past the Newsom recall question is expected to be difficult.

          • “But getting past the Newsom recall question is expected to be difficult.”

            Funny how voting to increase the lash is pretty straight forward.

            Voting to trim the lash or simply keep it the same length? Just a bit more complicated.

  5. ‘History Repeats Itself . . . Again’ — EP

    And again … and again:

    This afternoon, Tesla reported quarterly earnings of $438 million … including regulatory credits of $518 million.

    Just like last quarter, and the one before that, as far back as you want to go.

    That one of the richest lifeforms on the planet has the earnings of his principal corporate vehicle completely subsidized by the US fedgov makes me retch and puke in disgust.


    Biden/Harris to the electric chair — FOR THE PEOPLE!

  6. A friend of mine bought a Nissan in the past year or so, I think it is the Murano. In the deal they were able to work in one of the electric Leaf’s for about $10k. The dealer was so desperate as he had all these on the lot just taking up floor plan and no one wants them. My neighbor uses it for the few times he has to commute or for short trips where he does not want to take his pickup truck. He likes it for what he needs it to do and that it is not too expensive to recharge…yet.

    I can see these vehicles as a good alternative within a city or for what my neighbor uses his EV for, but they are never going to be the wholesale vehicle for a huge number of people. The physics just does not support using them for all purposes with the limitations that are going to be on the batteries for decades to come. I am counting the days on the auto manufacturers who are not hedging their bets for when the reality sinks in that they have made the wrong move….Ford is not going to be here in a decade or so with how they have made the wrong bet.

    • They make great second vehicles in two car households assuming one of the drivers commutes well within the range of the car.

    • Hi Doug,

      “I can see these vehicles as a good alternative within a city”.

      I’ve said this many times before, EV’s are not well suited for cities, they are well suited for suburbs (which the greenies hate). Cities, typically characterized by a lot of multi-story dwellings, do not, and cannot, have the infrastructure necessary for the convenient, economical or “green” wide scale adoption of EV’s. EV’s really make sense only in these circumstances:

      – the owner has full time access to charging (garage or carport)
      – the majority of the daily miles driven by the owner are pretty low (50 miles or less)

      So, in what environment in America is this the norm? It’s not cities or low density rural towns, it’s suburbs.

      What type of EV makes sense for the only environment where EV’s make sense? Seems to me, an inexpensive, pretty lightweight, low range EV fits the bill. Such a vehicle would be practical, economical, and MUCH more convenient than an ICE. Such a vehicle would be “greener” than anything but the most efficient ICE’s, and much “greener” than the idiotic, “ludicrous speed” contraptions made by Sir Elon. Such a car would also be much “greener” than the pedestrian, “long range” absurdities like the Bolt or the Leaf.

      Or, you could have a car that has all of the advantages of an EV, without any of the disadvantages, like, say a Volt.


      • Hey Jeremy,

        “ I’ve said this many times before, ”

        Here we go again.

        The goal of the propagandist is to convince people of the lie.

        For some reason it only works the one way.

        Hearing the truth from you doesn’t work as well

        Something about magnitudes and exponential numbers

        But, as usual you are correct.

        I’d only add that at the beginning of the last century, when EVs were very popular, only the people with houses and who could afford a house for the EV actually had one.

      • Jeremy,

        You wrote, “an inexpensive, pretty lightweight, low range EV fits the bill. “.

        Yes, there is a name for such a vehicle: Golf Cart. I don’t see Cushman or EZ-Go getting subsidies any time soon.

        • Global Electric Motors, formerly of Fargo, ND. A simple electric golf cart with weather protection and available utility bodies. They were actually taking off at their under 10k price point when Daimler Chrysler bought them out. They have since been sold to Polaris and seemingly disappeared from the market.
          They are kind of a neat little toy. Eminently more practical than a Tesla.

  7. I don’t see EVs gaining a foothold if/until they make the battery pack replaceable in say 10-15 minutes, or they are forced.

    • Or, since we won’t own anything and be happy, we will just buy into an electric douche canoe subscription. So you will just leave the vehicle you were driving at the charging/swap out center, and hop into a fully charged vehicle sitting on the lot. Just hope the vehicle you get in the exchange is big enough for your family and can fit the luggage you brought along.

      • BAC

        And also hope that the car you exchange for isn’t full of poopy diapers and baby vomit.

  8. Eric,

    If I remember correctly, GM wouldn’t LET you buy the car, though some certainly wanted to. After the EV1 “experiment”, rather than sell the remaining cars to people who wanted them, GM destroyed all but a few, which went to museums.

    I’m not saying the prices of EVs are anywhere sensible, and the wait to charge would certainly be an ungainly encumbrance. One thing you might be overlooking here, however, is that much of the range anxiety only applies to going out of town. Sadly, the last time I went out of town was a couple of months ago.

    Consider this, for feces and levity.

    For the daily drive, if both my home and place of employment are powered by solar electricity (they have a couple megawatts over the parking lot at work, by my calculations), and the necessary infrastructure was built, I could charge my car at both places, as long as the Sun was shining. This means, in town, I’d likely NEVER have to visit a “gas” station, and would, most of the time, begin my trip with a “full tank”, which is something that nearly never happens in my current position.

    Just something to consider. 😉

    Beyond all of this, regarding the EV1, how was the drive?

      • I wonder how he got away with just “hiding” it. Maybe a settlement somewhere?

        I stayed for the Tucker drive. They try and compare Elon Musk with Tucker, but I don’t see that at all. Musk is, primarily, a high-order shyster, and next an “idea man”. If Tucker were that, his cars would probably still be being produced, and we’d be paying for them, whether or not we bought one. 😉

        • Hi BaDbOn,

          Tucker and Musk have as much in common as Beethoven and Weird Al. And that’s unfair to Weird Al. Tucker had an idea and tired to sell it. He sought private capital; he tried to market his car. He failed – but he never tried to force anyone to subsidize his car or to buy it. Tucker also understood machinery. Musk is an electronic age rent-seeker who depends on force to keep his company going. He is a computer guy who does not understand mechanical things. He is a dangerous oligarch-technocrat.

        • I wondered too.

          But it is not like he is one of the little people. He probably just paid whatever the ‘loss cost’ was to GM. If it was ‘rediscovered’ later, GM would have to return the money to get the car back. If FFC decided to make a big legal case out of it, GM probably would not bother trying to recover it as their liability connection would have been broken anyway. It seems to be a museum piece now anyway in FFC custody.

          I guess Jay does not have one.

          • Yep, Anon. Maybe Jay hears NIN’s “Something I Can Never Have” when he sees that, uh, “aesthetically challenged” car, but probably more so the Tucker.

  9. Electric (and self-driving) vehicles are one of those technologies that the environmental think tank crowd, Amory Lovins at the Aspen Institute for example, love to hand wave about. Not because they’re so wonderful, but because someone with too much time on their hands sat up all night crunching the numbers and figured out that vehicles spend a lot of time in parking lots. “If only there were charging stations in every parking place, we could do away with a bazzilion gallons of gasoline” they figure. How will we pay this massive capital expenditure? “Not my department” or “Just borrow it into existence, it will pay for itself!” Where will we get the electricity to replace fossil fuels? “There’s more solar energy hitting one square mile of the Earth’s surface than all the energy in everything man has ever made since the dawn of time…” Well, maybe not that much hyperbole but you get the idea. They have an answer for everything because their ideas live in the theoretical universe. Engineers who build things live in this universe, where compromise is the norm.

    Where’s the engineering study that shows there’s a payback in 24 months? Because investors aren’t going to hang money out there for more time than that, and even then only with some tax incentives. Is there enough copper on the planet to wire up every parking space and not drive up the spot price to precious metal level? How are you going to smelt all the new copper ore needed on wind and solar power? Who’s going to pay for all the asphalt that needs to be cut and repaired? Who’s going to install all these high voltage charging pylons in all these parking lots? Who’s going to repair them? Who gets sued when some moron electrocutes themselves or shorts out the whole parking lot? And what happens to the cost-benefit analysis when the fossil fuel economy opens up the taps and gas prices drop to 99¢ a gallon?

    If only you buzzkill engineers would get on board with the plan we’d have prosperity and have to find some new existential threat, like bringing back the killer bees.

  10. Facts suck, when they don’t conform to your agenda. That’s OK though, Google et al will take care of it for us.
    Back in 1995 or so when I resigned from construction work, battery powered tools were the rage. I never used them. Because after 25 years in the trade using 110 volt tools, I was unable to account for them running down. I would forget, and find myself holding a paper weight instead of a tool. Not to mention that they simply did not generate the power that a 110 volt tool did. The latter has been largely overcome, though not totally. Recharging still must be constantly on one’s mind if they use them, just like EVs.

    • John,

      That is easy when your batteries weigh about 5 or 6 ounces. With my Milwaukee drill i always have 1 i’m using, 1 fully charged waiting its turn and 1 on the charger. The drill itself came with 2 batteries and i had to purchase the 3rd. Its a different story in a virtue mobile when your batteries weigh 1000 pounds and can’t be easily swiped out.

      As far as drills go I still feel the need to have a 110volt around for tough jobs because i still feel they generate more power than anything a battery charged drill can provide.

    • John,

      “Not to mention that they simply did not generate the power that a 110 volt tool did.”

      When I switched from the Makita 9.6v to a 14.4v Craftsman I got my ass thrown off a ladder. I was hanging a box on the wall with a 1/4-20 bolt.

      Torque was incredible. Of course transition to a drill with a clutch was new to me.

      At the time we were still installing industrial power and control in the Detroit area. That morphed into removing shortly after you resigned.

      I got tired of tripping over extension cords. Cleaning and repairing them was a pain. So I replaced everything except the big hammer drills and pipe threaders with cordless.

      The time saved loosing the cords paid for itself in just over a year.

      My buddy’s birthday was last weekend. Big momma got him a set of Milwaukee 24v on wheels. We built an 8×10 chicken coop replete with plumbing and wiring, didn’t need to change a battery until we mixed the paint.

      But now that the cords have been eliminated, I see many of the tradesmen wearing leashes.

      I know a roofer around your age. Known him my entire life. The man never kept any of his dogs on a leash. When we cruise around town checking on his jobs he inevitably gets out of the truck to admonish SAFETY HARNESS!!!

  11. I work with a hipster tech fanatic Tesla owner dip shit. Shortly after he got the car he told us a story about how awesome his kids thought it was that they could “watch Netflix in the car.” It was definitely a big deal moment for those of us listening. On the other hand, my son’s both have friends that own Teslas. Both of them have driven them, gone on long trips in them, and used the auto driving feature. Being car guys, they think that the Tesla’s are pretty cool cars. However, they also see that they are toys for wealthy virtue signalers and are subpar to the ICE alternatives.

  12. Wow Eric – very interesting you actually drove one of those. I remember reading about them when I was in school, though wasn’t in the US at that time so never saw one. One thing I never got- when the cars flopped, I heard GM destroyed them all – why was this ? Couldn’t they have just sold them off cheap, sure they will make an interesting addition to a collectors garage….

      • Hey Tuan,

        “Movie answers that question”.

        – a positive assertion that the theory presented in the movie is true.

        “Movie claims to answer that question”.

        – an agnostic assertion, the theory presented in the movie may, or may not, be true.

        “Movie purports to answer that question”.

        – a skeptical assertion, the theory presented in the movie is probably false.

        I believe that you used “da bestest word” to convey your meaning.


        • LOL Jeremy.

          I be tries ta please.

          After reading Mattacks’ review, I think, “Movie is completely bullshit.”, should be added to that list.

          If you factor in the digestive reflexes the maggots had to endure during the filming. A disclaimer should be in the film.

          Due to the inclusion of Ed Begley Jr., the American Humane Association cannot award their end-credit.

    • From what I remember, this car was mainly meant to be a test bed for technology and not an actual full blown model. They took them back and would not let anyone buy theirs as they had not tested for longevity and warranty type things due to the developmental vehicle status.

      • It was a compliance car to satisfy a CARB regulation for EVs at the time. This was later repealed. GM did longevity testing, and they knew that warranty costs would be astronomical. The propaganda movie entirely skips over that.

        • Mattacks,

          “The propaganda movie entirely skips over that.“

          I did say purports.

          I might go so far as to say the movie skips over a majority of concepts based in reality.

          Ed Begley Jr. is enough to gag a maggot.

          • You did, and I wasn’t arguing anything with your post. Just pointing out that the reason these were leased is so that GM didn’t have any liability to warrant these vehicles after the initial period. It was just a compliance car to satisfy a law passed by politicians that as usual are oblivious to reality.

            • Mattacks,

              I understand.

              A sacrificial fleet built to honor the gods of automotive regulation.

              Thank Govco we have moved on from such primitive times.

              Barbaric times are still a thing.

              Marketing and sales at gun point appear to be quite popular.

        • Ford had similar program in the late 70’s.

          My drug dealer’s dad worked the program.

          I got my hands on a Granada looking contraption with a four hundred something sticking out of the hood, Hurst 4 speed, and a corresponding differential.

          It scared the crap out of me. If I knew what I was doing I bet it would do wheelies.

          And after filling out all the paperwork when I returned it, I never asked again.

          For some strange reason I got the impression that my dealer’s father didn’t like stoners.

  13. Morning Eric,

    The optimist in me would like to point out a few benefits of the lengthened refueling times.

    Mandates, mandates, and more mandates.

    What better place to check BAC and papers than the chargers?

    How about that booster shot?

    A little exercise will do a body good. Picture the driver walking or running in a squirrel cage. This energy could easily be converted and fed to the car.

    And of course bringing back the attendant. This time he is an agent of the state. But he can perform a check of your wipers, tires, headlights, taillights, and the level of your turn signal fluid.

    • If your charging station was truly full service there would be hookers. I seriously doubt there would be too much complaint about the wait to charge. It could even be put on a credit card and show up as “services” like a buddy did with the Forest Service credit card at the Mustang Ranch decades ago…

      • Ernie,

        Now please answer truthfully. Did you see the actual receipt?

        Because service and labor are generally tax exempt.

        I’m pretty got-damn sure the tax on punani would have to be exorbitant.

        I hear the ex-post-facto tax on it – divorce – is far in excess of the claimed value.


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