I will advance o opinion on this; I am just posting the article for your
reading pleasure (?).
Activists fight for electric cars
Enthusiasts mount California vigil to save EV1
By Greg Schneider and Kimberly Edds
Updated: 1:20 a.m. ET March 10, 2005
The morning is too chilly for her flirty purple skirt and pink top, so
former "Baywatch" actress Alexandra Paul wraps her bare legs in a fleece
blanket and settles down for a long sidewalk vigil in Burbank, Calif.
Passersby on scooters toot their horns, and a security guard smiles and
waves as he walks by. Both he and the actress are there for the same
reason: to keep an eye on a parking lot full of colorful, two-door cars
behind a nondescript suburban office building.
Those cars are rarities, the last surviving batch of rechargeable
electric coupes built by General Motors Corp. in the late 1990s. Paul
and a band of homemakers, people with desk jobs, engineers, Hollywood
activists and car enthusiasts are 23 days into a round-the-clock vigil
aimed at keeping GM from destroying the cars.
What's at stake, they say, is no less than the future of automotive
technology, a practical solution for driving fast and fun with no direct
pollution whatsoever. GM agrees that the car in question, called the
EV1, was a rousing feat of engineering that could go from zero to 60
miles per hour in under eight seconds with no harmful emissions. The
market just wasn't big enough, the company says, for a car that traveled
140 miles or less on a charge before you had to plug it in like a
Some 800 drivers once leased EV1's, mostly in California. After the last
lease ran out in August, GM reclaimed every one of the cars, donating a
few to universities and car museums but crushing many of the rest.
Enthusiasts discovered a stash of about 77 surviving EV1s behind a GM
training center in Burbank and last month decided to take a stand.
Mobilized through Internet sites and word of mouth, nearly 100 people
pledged $24,000 each for a chance to buy the cars from GM. On Feb. 16
the group set up a homely street-side outpost of folding chairs that
they have staffed ever since in rotating shifts, through long nights and
torrential rains, trying to draw attention to their cause.
GM refuses to budge, but several factors give those at the vigil hope.
The auto industry underestimated the appeal of gas-electric hybrid
vehicles, and now the Toyota Prius, Honda Accord Hybrid and Ford Escape
Hybrid are selling faster than factories can build them. Gas prices are
headed higher this spring than last year, when they broke the
$2-a-gallon barrier, and sales of Detroit's biggest SUVs have softened
so much that makers are cutting back production.
Earlier this year, two men who leased discontinued electric pickup
trucks from Ford Motor Co. staged a week-long sit-in at a Sacramento
dealership after refusing to surrender the trucks at the end of their
leases. Ford reversed an earlier decision and agreed to sell them the
vehicles, and now it is setting up a program so other lessees can buy
"If Ford can do it, why can't GM?" asked Chelsea Sexton, a former GM
employee who helped organize the Burbank vigil.
Question of maintenance
The company says it cannot sell the cars because it would have a legal
obligation to service them, and it can't provide service because many
suppliers quit making the 2,000 unique parts that went into the design.
Most automakers experimented with electric power during the 1990s when
California threatened to require them to sell zero-emissions vehicles.
The state eventually backed off the requirement, and one by one the car
companies dropped their electric vehicle programs.
The EV1 was widely considered the best of the crop because of its
performance and innovative engineering, using a teardrop shape for slick
aerodynamics. GM says it gave the EV1 every chance to succeed, spending
more than $1 billion on development and dedicating an entire Michigan
plant to producing it. But the world's biggest automaker said the car
never appealed beyond a core group of technology enthusiasts and
"There is an extremely passionate, enthusiastic and loyal following for
this particular vehicle," GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss said. "There
simply weren't enough of them at any given time to make a viable
business proposition for GM to pursue long-term." Instead, GM is
developing hydrogen-powered fuel cells, a technology it hopes to market
within the decade.
Even Toyota Motor Corp., which kicked off the alternative-power craze
with its Prius, has concluded that American consumers simply have an
aversion to the idea of plugging in an electric car for a recharge. The
latest ad campaign for the Prius emphasizes that "you don't have to plug
it in," after focus groups and Internet surveys convinced the company
that some consumers worried about that, Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight
Nonetheless, Toyota is aware of a growing fad among do-it-yourselfers
who put a new battery in their Prius so it can be plugged in at home and
then travel about 20 miles on electric power alone, she said.
'Lived and breathed this project'
Sexton, the former GM employee, said people who had daily exposure to
the EV1 learned to love the plug-in feature of the car. She started
working for the company's Saturn division in 1993, then volunteered for
the EV1 program in 1996 and quickly became a zealot. "I even met and
married an EV1 technician," she said.
Her son, 6, spent his earliest days around the cars and now has written
messages to GM in chalk on the sidewalk outside the Burbank building.
"This is something we're all committed to as a family because we've all
lived and breathed this project," said Sexton, who has filed Internet
reports from the vigil site by hooking her computer to a solar panel the
group also uses for making tea.
For three weeks, she and a rotating group of colleagues have staffed
their site in four-hour shifts around the clock. Their cardboard signs
-- "GM make a U turn" and "Sell the EV1 for scrap. $24,000 each" -- are
now curled from the heavy rains that drenched Los Angeles last month.
Yesterday morning, Paul staffed the site alone, but by afternoon nearly
a half-dozen people were there. Every weekend the vigil stages a rally
that draws anywhere from two dozen to 100 people, Sexton said. Other
celebrities have dropped by, including Ed Begley Jr., and Woody
Harrelson has posted updates about the vigil on his Web site.
Last week, a big truck rolled up to the GM parking lot and took on about
seven of the EV1s. Vigil participants briefly blocked the truck from
leaving but stood aside when asked. Two of them followed the truck 140
miles toward Palm Springs, Calif., far enough to reinforce their
speculation that it was headed to a GM facility in Mesa, Ariz., that
enthusiasts have long thought was the crushing ground for discarded
EV1s. GM had assured them that large numbers of the cars remained in use
by researchers, but former EV1 driver Kenneth Adelman obtained aerial
photos of the Arizona site to confirm that the cars were meeting their
'Such a brilliant solution'
Barthmuss, the GM spokesman, acknowledged that the cars are being
recycled. "That does include flattening the vehicle so it can go through
the various mechanics of recycling," he said, adding that he did not
know what percentage of the fleet had been destroyed. He said the cars
stored at Burbank will eventually be hauled away for various purposes
but he knows of no set schedule.
What to do when the next truck comes has become a heated issue within
the group -- to stand by passively as the cars are loaded and taken
away, or to interfere. "Our policy is if anybody as an individual wants
to take active resistance that's up to the individual. But as a group
we're taking a passive stance," said Ted Flittner, a vigil participant
and Costa Mesa industrial engineer who never owned an EV1 but used to
enjoy riding in a friend's.
He accepts that the situation doesn't look promising but said the plight
of the EV1 has helped bring attention to an innovative environmental
project. "It's just so wasteful," he said. "They have such a brilliant
solution they've developed. They've put it on the market and proved it
works. People still want it and they're taking it away and destroying
Edds reported from California.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
There are two classes of pedestrians in these days of reckless motor
traffic - the quick and the dead.
~ Lord Dewar 1933 ~
Climbing into a hot car is like buckling on a pistol. It is the great
equalizer. ~ Henry G. Felsen 1964 ~