Killing the Electric Car Again — Part 1

who_killed_electric_car.jpg If you’ve seen the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? (which is ranked #8 at Netflix in documentary rentals), then you know the EV story up to 2003. What you might not know is that one of the players in the movie, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), looks like it is up to no good again.

In killing Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) the first time, they put off progress on this front for a decade. Now they are preparing, at their March 27th meeting, to kill BEVs a second time, and probably waste another decade. We don’t have another decade. In Part 2 you will find information on what you can do to let CARB know what you think.

This post provides background on the CARB’s sorry zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) legacy. For background on BEVs, PHEVs (plug-in hybrid EVs), and FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) see Joe’s January post Plug-in hybrids and electric cars a core climate solution, nationally and globally. The major automakers are likely to produce plug-in hybrids on their own, but not ZEVs, and yet eventually we want ZEVs to be a part of the fleet to get the greenhouse gas reduction necessary in 2050.

Back in 1990, to help fix chronic unhealthy air in California cities, CARB required that by 1998 2% of California new vehicle sales have zero emissions. Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) were then supposed to reach 3% by 2001, and 10% by 2003, and it was presumed that ZEV meant BEV. In 1996, under automaker pressure, CARB removed the 2% and 3% requirements, but left the 10% goal in place. It also allowed low emission vehicles (misleadingly called Partial ZEVs or PZEVs) to substitute for some ZEVs.

In 2001 they tinkered again and added a new category, Advanced Technology (AT) PZEVs, which are essentially hybrids. They also changed the 10% goal to 2% ZEVs, 2% AT PZEVs, and 6% PZEVs. The program began to resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption at this point, with gold, silver, and bronze categories. The program complexity has continued to grow since.

In 2002, the automakers attacked with a lawsuit claiming the AT PZEV provisions were an attempt to regulate fuel economy, a right they claimed was reserved to the Federal government. (The Bush administration filed an amicus brief supporting the automakers in the suit, presaging its later efforts to fight any attempts to address clean air and global warming.) A few months later the automakers’ obtained an injunction preventing CARB from enforcing the 2001 program. By this point, the regulations had put 5,600 ZEVs on U.S. roads, 4,400 in California, but the injunction and later settlement effectively put an end to the automakers’ efforts.

As we now know, the Federal courts last year ruled that California does have the the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under EPA waivers, so the automakers’ lawsuit was meritless. (Interestingly it was mighty Vermont that first vanquished the automakers in court, not California.) However, in 2003 Governor Davis and CARB were spineless and settled with the automakers rather than stand up for California’s rights. Rather than simply remove the AT PZEV provision that had been used as the basis of the lawsuit, CARB essentially redesigned the entire program to the automakers’ specification.

What the automakers wanted was a hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) research program. Like BEVs, FCVs have zero tailpipe emissions. They got their research program, and they didn’t have to deliver anything but prototypes until nine years later, in 2012. Under the agreement, in 2012-2014, they were supposed to put 8,333 FCVs a year (0.4%) onto the roads. From the original 1998 target of 2% ZEVs, they had pushed it out fourteen years and cut the numbers by a factor of five.

Even this was not enough for the automakers. As CARB’s fact sheet explains of BEVs, “consumers quickly bought these highly functional vehicles and called for more.” Consumers sat on waiting lists hoping for automakers to produce more. However, the automakers’ next step was not to produce more vehicles, but to pry the BEVs they had leased from the hands of enthusiastic drivers as the leases expired (drivers were refused both the customary options of lease renewal or purchase).

As a result, less than 1,200 of these vehicles are on U.S. roads today. Some suggest that the automakers did not want the evidence of what was possible on the roads. Since the massacre, they have consistently taken the line that the technology for ZEVs is not ready, ignoring what they once put on the roads, and in some cases what are still remain on the roads (several RAV4-EV drivers now have over 100,000 miles on their BEVs, and they continue on).

Returning to 2008, the 2012 deadline now looms for ZEVs in the program created by CARB in conjunction with the automakers. Now the automakers are squealing that they cannot meet the fuel cell targets they used to kill BEVs back in 2003, and CARB staff is obligingly rolling over and proposes weakening the regulations yet again. Now CARB staff proposes that a mere 840 ZEVs a year0.04% of sales–will be sufficient for the major automakers. In all probability, startups such as Tesla will outsell the ZEV goal target for the majors. Worse, if past history is a guide to the future, in 2012, CARB will roll over again and push out targets yet again. And CARB is doing this despite the fact that major automakers are starting to back away from FCVs, and it is the infeasibility of FCVs that are being used as the excuse for delaying clean air.

Electric Vehicles (both PHEVs and BEVs) are the best way to address greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. New Technology Adoption S-curve BEVs allow us to fuel our driving from electricity made with no greenhouse gas emissions, and that is where our electricity production must head in the coming decades. To kill BEVs in 2003 and put in place a fuel cell vehicle research program has already had horrible consequences for our atmosphere. Vehicle Fleet Technology Mix It takes decades for new vehicle sales to change the vehicle fleet, and it takes decades for new vehicle technology to gain consumer acceptance (seven years after hybrids were introduced, they have now reached only 2% of vehicle sales). It is time to abandon the fuel cell research program and begin production of vehicles that have the potential to operate without emissions. Examples of new technology adoption rates and the resulting fleet old/new technology composition are shown in the graphs to the right. Only by starting now do we have a chance to reach our 2050 targets.

— Earl K.

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12 Responses to Killing the Electric Car Again — Part 1

  1. Thomas C Gray says:

    I have to laugh loudly at the morons like Earl (the Pearl) K., who really believes that a new law from California will have the ability to magically produce low cost, high powered, long lasting, quick recharging batteries.
    The problem with “Who Killed the Electric Car? was that it was totally fictitious. It made the preposterous claim that California laws could have “forced” the automakers to produce a practical electric car, and even funnier, claimed that the EV-1 was such a car. Anyone who seriously believes that automakers have some secret battery technology they are not using must ask themselves how an automaker could ever invent a new battery in the first place. They are called AUTOMAKERS, not battery development corporations, you f**ing moron. The EV-1 sucked. Even today, with all the money being thrown at EV companies, not a single one of them is planning to produce anything similar (or as costly) as the EV-1.
    Ha, ha, ha.

  2. Torrey Gilchrist says:

    What’s silly about Earl’s arguments here, which are totally illogical,
    is that the main reason GM didn’t pususe their extended range EV
    (the Chevy VOLT) back then was because of the zero emissions law, which foolishly was trying to make a moon landing with Civil War technology.
    Stupid politicians somehow convenced themselves that Detroit (but never Tokyo, which was also very illogical) was “hiding” some fantastic new technology that could eliminate emissions (remember, back then carbon was not considered a harmful emission). Just what that technology was,
    no one ever said, which wasn’t a surpise. There was more paranoia in Sacremento than any place on Earth. So they blamed the automakers for their failure to control emissions, most of which actually were generated by power plants and factories. They singlehandedly, thru their stupid insistence upon a “zero emissions” vehicle (which, of course, was anything but zero emissions) ended up making things far worse than before.
    But it served its purpose- it convinced the rather lamebrained California citizens that “something was being done.”
    Anyone who swallows the fictitious bunk in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” probably deserves to be forced to drive an EV-1 for 5 years.
    You’d think that an adult would know what a car is required to do, and that the EV-1 couldn’t do any of those things.

  3. Jonathon Yeardly says:

    Let’ see now. Here’s some village idiot claiming that we need another
    zero emission law and an EV-1. Ah, yes, what a car was that EV-1. Could almost guarantee being able to get to and return from a destination all of 35 miles away. Cost 4 times more than a Honda Civic, which carried twice as many passengers and three times more luggage, and cost a few hundred dollars in gas every year, while the EV-1 needed a new $20,0000 battery pack of 26 NimH batteries ever 5 years or so. And yet the movie claimed that the EV-1 was cheap to drive. Took 8 hours to recharge and
    needed a garage or carport and could only function as a second car.
    Yes, it’s truly a mystery why they didn’t bust down GM dealer’s
    doors to be able to lease that (highway illegal) “experimental car.”
    I heard that 50 out of 5000 GM customers who had expressed interest actually followed thru and leased the car. Only in California can you find that many morons in a group of 50000. The movie, you know, lied thru its teeth, although you wonderhow a generation can be so stupid as to not realize that an electric car using NiMH batteries is also preposterously stupid. But, that’s what the zero emission law brought forth. Oh, yes, we desperately need another zero emission law. We also need a few more holes in our head …

  4. Now, now, children, let’s stop the name-calling. Didn’t your mothers ever teach you that it’s impolite to use words like “stupid” just because you disagree with someone? It’s better to use facts than to scream your opinion if you want to persuade someone.
    Here are a few facts: I own an electric 2002 RAV4-EV with 63,000 miles on it. I haven’t bought gas in 6 years. The nearly 10-year-old nickel-metal-hydride battery technology in my car gives me a 120-mile range, which makes it a great regional car. No, it’s not for driving long distances. For that, you’d want a plug-in hybrid. The batteries in the RAV4-EV (the same chemistry as the batteries in the EV1) have lasted over 100,000 miles in other RAV4-EVs and are still going strong. I charge it while I sleep, usually. Occasionally I drive 100 miles or so and plug in at a public charger while I do whatever I drove there to do, and when I return the car has plenty of power to get me home, giving me a 200-mile day in a 120-mile car. Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Nissan all have announced that they’ll start selling new EVs in 2009-2010. GM says it will sell two plug-in hybrids by 2010.
    Just because most automakers would like to continue selling their gas-guzzling, greenhouse gas-spewing, last-century technology doesn’t mean that’s all they’re capable of doing. California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program forced them to give consumers a choice, and the Air Resources Board on March 27 will decide whether consumers will get the option of zero-emission cars again within the next decade, or later — too late.
    If you’d like to have a choice, go to to let the Air Resources Board and Governor Schwarzenegger know.

  5. Fritz says:

    Thomas: our automakers are merely pathetic auto assemblers today. You’re probably a UAW worker, based on your level of intellect you demonstrate. True creativity Detroit has lost long ago, they’re now in catchup mode. Look at market share slide for the big three in the last 40 years. Oh, sorry, it’s clear you don’t do numbers, not having finished high school! You’re also quite ignorant of’s efforts. Best you simply cease and desist.
    Torrey: You too, need to learn what Californians already know. You’re just jealous you don’t live here. Do you homework before spouting.
    Jonathan: I have a car with 24 NiMH batteries that is still unmeasureably degraded after 6 years of operation. Hope you’re enjoying paying at the pump every week. I’ll continue to laugh at all you folks; you simply don’t get it!

  6. Earl C says:

    It’s funny, maybe there was some other EV1 that was produced too? The one I drove for 3 years before it was taken away from me wasn’t at all like a few here have suggested.

    The car I drove cost no more than any other new model of automobile. Had they made more than about 1200 of them, they could have been profitable.

    I don’t know what high-powered might refer to but I watched a lot of Porche drivers get pretty worried as I silently scooted ahead of them when traffic lights changed. Granted, the 80 mph governor limited my ability to actually keep ahead of them forever. Usually, I was happy to hold around the speed limit anyway as they finally passed me in a huge panic.

    I don’t know how long my EV1 would last. It was taken from me at the 3 year point and I only had about 35,000 miles on it. GM also sent me threatening letters saying they would start charging me $0.50 per mile if I exceeded 36,000 miles so clearly, they didn’t really want me to find out.

    Charging speed was only a problem on long trips between LA and San Jose. Most of the time I woke up in the morning with a full charge good for an easy 120 miles of daily driving. From empty, it took about 4.5 hours to charge. I’ll grant that we’ll need to install fast chargers along our highways before pure EV’s are really practical for long distance trips. Phoenix Motorcars has already charged the battery pack for there new electric pickup truck in less than 10 minutes so the technology does exist today. It just needs to be deployed.

    There wasn’t any secret battery technology. The technology was Nickel Metal Hydride or NiMH. It was in your cellphones back then as well. Of course, Li-ion or Li-poly are even better today as proven by your cellphone today.

    Other than long trips, I found very little that my EV1 couldn’t do that a ‘vette, Porche, or my MG could. Those are pretty uncomfortable for long trips anyway.

    I wonder where the 35 mile range estimate came from. Heck, once I went 35 miles with my EV1 after it had told me I was empty at 120 miles. Of course, it reduced my power but I definitely went 35 miles ON EMPTY and 155 total miles after charging! My ICE cars don’t seem to do too well on empty ;-)

    The EV1 didn’t have to have either a carport or a garage. I lived in a small apartment for 1 of the years I had the EV1. I charged it at a public charger across the street or at a charger near work. During the 3 years with the EV1, I worked at 5 different offices and there was a public charger within 200 yds of all but 2 of those offices so I could easily charge at work if I had a long drive (like my 70 mile each-way carpool lane enabled commute). One of the other offices had chargers 1/4 mile away and the other a mile away.

    I could definitely fit more luggage in my EV1 than I can in my Honda Civic. That trunk was huge. I just couldn’t fit more than 2 people in it (legally), kind of like any other roadster.

    It sucks having to pay for gasoline. I loved driving by the gas stations in my EV1 when gas prices first shot over $3 per gallon. Sometimes I stopped by the stations for a carwash or to buy a coke.

    Well Earl, besides having an AWESOME first name, I agree fully with you. California’s legislators need to quit letting themselves get whipped by a bunch of status quo automakers who are afraid of change. They need to continue with the vision that Pete Wilson’s government saw in the EV1 prototype in 1991. While emissions are very important, It also showed them that we don’t have to be stuck at the mercy of our diminishing oil supplies forever.
    We can continue to be a productive mobile society if we just switch to the right automobile technology today just as my grandfather’s generation switched away from horses and buggies. My grandfather fixed wagons as a young WWI GI, then switched over to gasoline automobiles so change is possible. It won’t really be that hard to do and the torque of an electric car can be a lot more fun than ICE cars.
    I lived the automobile future. It is EV and it is GREAT!
    Earl C

  7. Steven Kimball says:

    Well done, Sherry and Earl. Game, set, match.

  8. Uosdwis says:

    They can kill the electric car, but tell me how they are going kill $5+ gas?? I guess we voters can “kill” them in the election.

  9. Earl Killian says:

    Torrey Gilchrist, you seem very confused about what I did say, preferring to imagine something of your own invention and then ridicule that. You also say that greenhouse gases were not considered harmful back then, what is your definition of “back then”? Given that there was widespread acceptance of global warming in the 1970s, and my post begins in the 1990s, what you suggest doesn’t hold.

    Also you should know that EVs predate hybrids by a century, and that the GM Impact was shown at the LA auto show in 1990, 4-5 years before Ta­keshi Uchiyamada started working on the G21 (which eventually became the Prius). Internal work on EVs (not hybirds) in Toyota stared in 1971.

    It was the GM Impact at the 1990 LA Auto Show that inspired CARB to call for ZEVs. This led right away to the RAV4-EV development program in Toyota, and the Prius no doubt benefited from that development effort (Uchiyamada was in charge of Toyota’s research laboratories before becoming Toyota’s chief engineer in 1996).

  10. MeltyMan says:

    This may or may not be interesting but could make a story or Dot Earth article: GM is running a Chevy “microsite” on the NYT at: (interesting URL — but what on earth is a “microsite”?). The splash says that GM wants to listen to consumers — and it wants a “dialogue” (sure, now that gas will be approaching $4/gallon, of course it does). I noticed a couple of things about this site:

    1. you cannot submit comments anonymously and GM retains legal rights to publish/use submitter’s names in any materal submitted and (more importantly)

    2. GM apparently intends to LEASE the Chevy Volt (go the microsite, click on Q&A and then Electric; then scroll to the bottom. See the note after +). There’s nothing strange about that UNLESS you have watched “Who Killed The Electric Car?” (I am guessing that you have). In this case, you know the story, you see the red flag. I don’t think anyone who knows the history of the EV-1 would LEASE a Chevy Volt. I desperately want to believe that this is not greenwash and GM is serious about PHEVs. — but then it does this. Unbelievable. Unless..

  11. Air Intake says:

    They can kill the electric car, but tell me how they are going kill $5+ gas?? I guess we voters can “kill” them in the election.

  12. TEG says:

    Regarding “Thomas C Gray”, check here:

    Someone or some thing seems to plant dissenting posts on blogs related to WKtEC (and Alt Energy in general) which are designed to waste our time and sap our energy. They won’t bother to respond. It seems like some “bot” program finds these kinds of blog entries and quickly adds a first post just to get everyone off topic. Very sad, really.