CARB, EV1, Ford, And Trump — Where Do We Go From Here?


In December, 1996, General Motors began leasing its innovative EV1 to customers in California. The EV1 generated a great deal of interest in electric cars but there was a reason why it was only available in California. The California Air Resources Board had promulgated regulations requiring manufacturers to sell zero emission cars if they want to continue doing business in the state.

EV1 electric car

California has been the largest car market in the US for decades. As distasteful as the zero emissions rules were to car makers, they could not bring themselves to ignore California, so they did the next best thing. They created so-called “compliance cars” — vehicles that met the letter if not the spirit of the regulations. They were intended for sale only in California at first, but they were later made available in other states that adopted the CARB regulatory scheme.

For General Motors, the EV1 was how it planned to appease the CARB gods. People who leased one raved about its abundant power and nearly silent operation. But that didn’t stop GM from joining with other car makers to attack the rules CARB set down. The industry argued that electric cars were too expensive, there was an inadequate network of charging stations, and there was little demand among the general public for electric cars. Ultimately, the car companies prevailed and the rules were rescinded.

As soon as that happened, GM stopped building the EV1. When the outstanding leases were up, it quietly collected all of the cars and took them to a crusher where they were destroyed. There was a huge public outcry at the time, giving the lie to the claim that nobody wanted to buy an electric car. (See the movie Who Killed The Electric Car?) People who had leased an EV1 were particularly upset and went around acting like someone had just shot the family dog.

That’s pretty much how things remained until Martin Eberhard created a marriage of lithium ion battery cells with the tzero sports car, an event that led more or less directly to the start of Tesla Motors. Today, Tesla has sold nearly 200,000 premium electric cars at prices comparable to the best luxury sedans from Mercedes, BMW, and Audi. In addition, some 380,000 people worldwide have plunked down $1,000 to reserve a Tesla Model 3, the midsize car due to go into production late next year. So much for there being no demand!

In addition, Tesla has reached into its own pocket to create a worldwide network of charging stations to address the concern that people who drive an electric car have that they will run out of battery power while away from home.

None of that has stopped Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, from puckering up to plant a big wet kiss on The Donald. Fields wants Trump to eviscerate the current emissions and fuel economy rules imposed by the EPA. Tired of all the sniveling by the manufacturers, the EPA last week went ahead and formalized an extension of those rules until 2025. “We can’t make any money!” Fields screams while the US auto industry is powering toward another year of strong sales.

Fields trots out the same tired shibboleths used by the industry 20 years ago to rail against electric cars — they are too expensive, there is no charging infrastructure, and nobody wants to buy the damned things in the first place. Nowhere in Fields’s plaint is there any mention of the environment and how fossil fuels imperil the entire population of the world with premature death and disease. “Profits before people” has been the rallying cry for business in the United States ever since “Engine Charlie” Wilson told Congress in 1953, โ€œFor years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.โ€

20 years on from the EV1, are electric cars any closer to public acceptance than they were in 1996? Despite the pulings and dark mutterings from Fields and his colleagues, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” The major German manufacturers have decided to dig deep to create a network of high power chargers in Europe. (Ironically, Ford of Europe is part of that group.) Car companies all over the globe are racing to bring electric cars to market. That includes plug-in hybrids which some people think should not be called electric cars at all.

The Chevy Bolt is on its way to showrooms in California and Oregon as we speak. Mercedes is ramping up its EQ electric car division. Volkswagen is planning its own electric car brand known as I.D. In the end, what will put electric cars over the top is not range or price. The second revolution that is building strength every day is the shift from private car ownership to carsharing networks of autonomous driving cars. While a self-driving car does not need to be electric to function, the two technologies go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The electric cars of today are like the early flip phones. Connected, self-driving cars will be like iPhones. Once people experience the convenience and low cost associated with not owning a car at all and merely renting one on an as needed basis, there will be no turning back. Elon Musk has every intention of making the Model 3 the first new car ever introduced with full self-driving capability from day one. The rest of the industry will be racing to catch up with Tesla once again.

The 20 year anniversary of the EV1 may look like not much has changed, but by the time its 30 year anniversary rolls around, the world of cars will have unalterably changed and there will be no going back.

Sources: Autoblog, Green Car Reports

Note to our readers: Recently I received a message from the management company that owns Gas2. It said a reader complained that I am too strident in my disdain for Donald J. Trump and asked me to tone down my remarks in the future. Here is my response: If you have the courage of your convictions, put your feelings in the comments section where you and I can have the advantage of feedback from other readers. Don’t go crawling up the back stairs trying to influence my stories. That is exactly the kind of insidious intimidation that is the hallmark of Trump and his minions.

Know this: I do not respond to cowards who hide behind their anonymity. If you have something to say, put it out there where everyone can see it and respond. Perhaps I am too strident and if so, the community will let me know. Don’t go sneaking around behind my back. I have no respect or time for someone who behaves in such an underhanded, puerile fashion.

And here’s something else for you to consider. My colleague Jo Borras believes we have a moral obligation to resist Donald Trump and ย his lunatic ideas which endanger the environment and every living soul on earth as vigorously as possible. I couldn’t agree more.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Rafael Formisano

    Freedom of Speech:
    The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction, (or a reader complain).

    • I encourage people to complain all they want. Or, you know, go read another blog. Whatevs.

    • CraigK

      The First amendment gives you the right to speak your mind without government interference; it does not shield you from the opposing opinions of others.

  • roseland67

    When you put 10 gallons of gas in your car, ONLY 3 gallons are used to move your car forward.
    The rest, over 70% of the energy you put in your vehicle is WaSTED to the atmosphere in the form of heat.
    So about 1,000,000 btu for every vehicle on the planet, every day, forever, think about that #.
    Whether you believe in global warming or not, (not enough data for me to have an opinion yet), the catostrophic amount of WASTED energy by ICE is incalculable.
    The vast majority of Urban transportation will be electric in the near future. I’m guessing by 2025, there will be laws enacted forbidding
    some ICE use in metropolitan areas,
    and by 2035, the % of ICE to Battery vehicles will tip to battery powered.
    Our immediate families will see this paradigm shift.
    Btw, I am a Tesla investor

    • That’s the beauty of ethanol. With the right PKG you can boost that thermal efficiency up to more than 40% … and then grow some more! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • roseland67


        Beauty? 40% is beautiful?
        While it is a significant improvement, (and I have not confirmed your example), it is still way less than 50% of the efficiency of electric drive trains, which typically operate in the 90-95% range.
        Conastoga wagon makers didn’t see their end coming due to the ICE adaptation into the automobile,
        They were blind, possible you may have the same myopic condition?

        ICE for urban transportation is a dinosaur with 1 foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, most forward thinking people see this.

        • 90-95% once they get the juice. Is the power station generating the juice running at 90-95%? I think not.

          • bioburner

            I think the 50% efficiency number commenter “foseland67” was referring to encompasses the losses at the point of electric generation.

          • roseland67

            The 50% I wrote was referring to the suggested ethanol vs electric drive trains.

          • roseland67

            Either is the oil refinery,
            There is simply no argument that holds up when comparing ICE vs. electric drive trains Jo, none, zip, zero, zilch, nada, fondalamatz and I’ll even throw in a bubkis for good measure.

          • Disagree. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • roseland67

            Most old school gear heads do, much like their Conastoga wagon counterparts.

          • LOL!! It’s not that, man- we’re still at a point where more than 2/3 of electricity being generated in the US comes from fossils. Displacing the pollution from your tailpipe to a smokestack doesn’t make it go away, no matter how much the EV neophytes want it to. That’s OK, though- like most of the recently converted, I doubt you’ll consider your position objectively. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • roseland67

            Once again,
            I made no reference to emissions, global warming, climate change etc. only efficiencies of drive trains.
            ICE stink in every single comparison to electric drive trains and that does not include performance, & maintenance conparison.

            The amount of WASTED energy in this country alone by ICE is incalculable & unconscionable

          • OK. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • roseland67

            I am not recently converted,
            I am an engineer working in the energy field, my opinions are based on math, and as such,
            are indisputable.
            They can only be argued, as you are doing, but in the end they cannot be wrong, they are after all, math, there is only 1 correct answer.
            After all of your bob, weave, duck, dodge and hide and misdirection, electric drive trains are still 3x more efficient than the best ICE.
            I have no political agenda other than to unelect every sitting congressman, green or not, 1 term is enough.

          • Steve Hanley

            In some cases, one term it MORE than enough!

          • We’re not talking about the drivetrains, Rosie. We’re talking about the production of the energy at the plant- over 2/3 of which is still being generated by coal and natural gas in the US.

        • bioburner

          The problem is most people are not forward thinking. The vast majority of the people I know live for today and few worry about the future. Its sad to think that our future is dependent on a small minority of people who are fighting people like the Kook brothers and Donald to try to get them to do the right thing for our planet.
          Some friends of mine are recent immigrants from China. When I showed them my electric car and my solar PV system they were impressed that I was doing the right thing. Instant respect from people who knew how important my actions were. When Americans see the same thing they ask “How much money are you saving”

          • roseland67

            Agreed, I hosted 85 Chinese for an energy seminar, 2 dialects so it was slow with 2 interpreters, they were extremely interested in our pv integrations as they are using coal to run grocery stores, think about that, shoveling coal into a furnace to provide energy for stores.

          • Steve Hanley

            Wow. Sounds like Donald Trump’ dream come true. He loves coal!

            Seriously, I smell a story here based on that conference. CleanTechnica is one of our companion sites and it would be perfect for that audience, Feel like working with me to write it up? You could garner some international attention about your energy seminar.

            schanley45@gmail is my e-mail address if you’re interested.

          • roseland67


            I have been asked to share this before, but internal corporate policy and also that of the private university that hosted declined.

          • roseland67


            Somehow you are equating “forward thinking” people with Climate Change?
            That is not what I wrote or suggested.
            My post was to simply compare the efficiency and waste of ICE vs. Electric drive, doing so, you will see no comparison.

      • JP

        Jo, the biggest problem I see with ethanol is the amount of energy needed to convert it into ethanol. That energy, in the form of electricity can charge an EV. Also, fossil fuel power plants have a base load at night that must be maintained. Most EVs are charged while owners are sleeping. This translates into a use of electricity at potentially lower rates and better efficiency. EV owners also have the option of adding solar PV to their homes to make their own power. Ethanol is MUCH harder to make at home. Lastly, it is EXTREMELY easier and more cost effective to clean the air coming from power plants that number in the hundreds rather than attempt to clean it at the tailpipe of millions of cars.

          • Matjaลพ Ciglar

            Plants efficiency (how much soon energy convert into chemical energy) is 1-2% grass up to 4%. Harvesting, packing, transportation, fermentation, processing, transporting takes 50% or more off. And then you need noisy smelly engine to run with 40%. So start with 2% take off 50%of that and run engine with 40% (theoretical maximum), reality 25% and you finish with overall efficiency between 0,25%-0,5% at most.
            Using solar panels with 20% efficiency, transformation and line loses, EV battery charging and motor loses combined are 15-20%… So EV is running at 16% efficiency or at least 32 fold more efficiently as Ethanol powered cars.
            PV can be installed on the roof, while Ethanol needs huge areas to be farmed for fuel.
            So bio fuels are in general as bad as coal.

  • Less cars, less maintenance on said cars, less profits, less jobs, less investors.

    That’s the problem right there….

    • The piano makers said the same thing around 1916 … seems like the economy adapted well enough.

    • Steve Hanley

      All good points, Max. VW says it will shed 30,000 jobs as it transitions to building electric cars. Fewer jobs for mechanics are sure to follow. Not only that, self driving cars may eviscerate the auto insurance business. Fewer private car sales will impact the auto finance and leasing business.

      Big changes coming, and as Jo says, technology always slaps some around while creating opportunities for others. Who would have thought 10 years ago that I could actually make a living on my computer from the comfort of my living room?

      In response, Trump promises to put coal miners back to work. What is that guy smoking? Wishing and hoping are not strategies to meet life’s challenges. Teaching coal miners how to transition to building solar farms and wind turbines? Now that is how to deal with technological change. A carbon fee would fund their training without costing the taxpayers a dime.

      Frankly, the whiners who support Trump are the real “takers” in our society. They want the gummint to give them back the jobs they lost 2 decades ago. Pathetic. Get off your ass. Get some training and GET A JOB, you slackers!

      The world owes you nothing, as in not one thing. And you have the balls to call Millenials “snowflakes?” Get over yourselves. Manufacturing Conestoga wagons isn’t coming back into vogue no matter how much the Trumpster huffs and puffs and threatens to blow our houses down.

      Blacksmiths will not reappear in our neighborhoods any time soon. The mills in New England will not be making shoes and cloth again. The world has moved on and if you got left by the side of the road, that is hard cheese. What are you going to DO about it? Whine to the government to give you a job? Turn your country over to a dictator who makes empty promises he can’t possibly keep? Do you an IQ higher than the average clam?

      If you really want to help the American economy, buy American, you doofus. Stop shopping at Walmart. Support American business or STFU! I was at Walmart the other day and saw a ton of rusted out American pickup trucks with Trump stickers on them. All I can say to those folks is, “You are really a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?”

      • CraigK

        Main point: we are entering a new Industrial Revolution, but in the energy arena. Just as the first IR cost thousands of people their jobs,so will this present one. It is the government’s job to manage things (or stay out of the way of those who are managing) so that the least number of people are hurt and the transition is a ssmooth as possible.
        Secondary point: I shop WalMart, and I Buy American at every opportunity. Start reading labels: you will be surprised just how much of WMs products are American Made.

  • I say lots of stuff. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Eco Logical

    Great article Steve, I commend you for saying it like it is. Keep up the good work!

  • bioburner

    Great article Steve. Like I needed another excuse NOT to buy a Ford. Mark Fields needs to get off his butt and start building car that people want to buy. That would solve the problem he is facing not sucking up to Donald Duck I mean Trump.
    Re: Note to your readers. I voted for Jill Stein…Hillery won my state so it didn’t really matter. Listening to the Donald I can see he has no clue. Burn more coal…that’s not gonna happen. Everybody knows that gas and wind power is cheaper. UGH

    • Steve Hanley

      The way forward, in my opinion, is to build a new political consensus based on addressing the horrors of burning fossil fuels. Clearly there are deeply felt emotions that are dividing the American electorate but a willingness to address climate change like adults is something most Americans agree on and cuts across all political fault lines.

  • CraigK

    Steve, I do think that you are too strident (too soon) in your denunciation of the President-Elect. Give the man a chance. I was none too pleased when Obama, a political puppet with no real world experience in any field, was elected, but once he was I shut up and gave him a chance. I didn’t start denouncing him until he had started making obvious mistakes and/or sell outs.
    Why not put the poison pen on hold for a while: the man isn’t even in office yet.