At the controls of a General Motors electric-powered EV1, cruising nose to nose with a pickup truck, I stared at the point in the road where two lanes become one. Rather than carefully sliding behind my neighbor, I tapped the accelerator. By the time I glanced at the dash-board a few seconds later, the speed-ometer read 85 and the truck was a distant reflection.
It was at that moment, hurtling toward the morning sun on Washington's Southwest Freeway, that I first really began to wonder why automakers seemingly don't want to build or sell powerful electric cars.
Nor was my borrowed EV1 simply a fine highway machine. Cruising the winding upper stretches of Rock Creek Park, I floated forward in near silence, through sunlight dappled by leafless branches. Not a bad way, all in all, to run errands or get to work, tucked in a smooth, snug roadster that on any stretch of empty asphalt will, with the slightest of prodding, shoot forward like one of those wheeled rockets that set land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
I liked the EV1. It was easy to recharge, and for my purposes, its 65-mile range was ample. Best of all, the car released no emissions (unfortunately, I can't say the same for the electric utilities from which it drew its charge). So why did GM pull the EV1 off the market nearly three years ago? And why do such techno-competent competitors as Toyota and Ford merely dabble in the electric car niche?
"The EV1 is hugely popular," says Terry O'Day, vice president of EV Rental Cars in Los Angeles, which, along with sister locations in other major cities, handles a fleet of EV1s. "There are more sales calls coming into GM and into my company than at any time since General Motors stopped selling them. It is an extraordinary car."