In the late 1980s and 1990s, General Motors worked to put an electric car on the market. Announced by Chairman Roger Smith in 1990 as the "Impact," the car that hit the streets in Arizona and California was eventually called the EV1.
The designers of the EV1 faced huge challenges. They were required to build a car with creature comforts (e.g., air conditioning and a stereo), safety devices, and enough range between charges to both live up to the company's original range claims of 120 miles.
General Motors engineers and their outside consultants designed the EV1 from the ground up. The automobile combined lightweight materials, aerodynamic design, a system that recharges the batteries during braking, and sophisticated computer-controlled propulsion to create an electric vehicle.
Consumers could get an EV1 through General Motors' Saturn dealers. Although there was a list price for the sporty two seater ($33,995), GM did not sell the car to consumers. It stead, the company leased the cars to consumers in order to retain control and ownership. The monthly lease payment ranged from $399 to $549, depending on where the lessee lived.
About 800 people-including some celebrities-took the plunge and signed on for the three-year leases. Many drivers liked the quick acceleration and smooth, quiet performance of the EV1. By 2003, however, GM had determined that the EV1 was not commercially viable. It decided to withdraw all EV1s from their leases, retain a few, and destroy the others. GM ended the consumer test project in 2004.
GM built 1,117 of the cars between 1996 and 1999, including 660 "Generation I" EV1 cars in the 1997 model year (1996-97) and 457 "Generation II" EV1 cars in the 1999 model year (1998-99). The Smithsonian's EV1 is a first-generation 1997, with serial number 660, the last "Generation I"car produced.