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FOX 11 Archives: A Car Ahead Of Its Time

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Automotive history was made this week in 1996 when General Motors unveiled the first mass-produced modern all-electric car.  It was called the EV1, and many of its components were built in Southern California, where GM figured most of these cars would find a market.  Six years earlier, in 1990, the company introduced a prototype version of an electric vehicle, the Impact, to great acclaim.  You can see some footage of that car by clicking on the first video pane.

After several more years of R&D, GM began building the EV1.  It was a two seat coupe that looked a lot like the Impact.  Its electrical energy was stored in old-fashioned lead acid batteries, but just about everything else in the car was newly-developed.  The cars themselves were virtually hand-built.  Our news crew was there for the rollout at an L.A. auto dealership.  Click on the second clip to see the footage.

The EV1 proved to be immensely popular.  Demand outpaced supply.  An easy claim, since GM built fewer than 1,200 of the cars.  Also, the EV1 only was available in California, Arizona and Georgia. One other catch: they weren't for sale.  Drivers only could lease them for a limited term.  GM said the lessees were part of a rubber on the road engineering trial, and the company wanted the EV1s back after a couple of years for evaluation.  Many customers, however, didn't want to give back the cars.  They sent in checks, made public pleas and virtually begged the company to extend their leases or let them buy the cars.  No go.  Eventually, GM took back all of the EV1s and, with the exception of a few dozen, which were sent to colleges and museums -- including the Smithsonian Institution -- all of the remaining vehicles were destroyed.

Now, more than 20 years since GM announced it would build an electric car, electrics and hybrids are a common sight, especially in California. Automotive research firm Polk says that while electric vehicle sales comprise less than three percent of all car sales nationwide, California leads the country in the sale of all-electric and hybrid vehicles. The percentage of electrics sold in the "Golden State" is closer to 11%.

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