10 Years Ago

The ghost of future's past

The ghost of futures past

On the eve of what will be a public admission of the catastrophic financial situation Detroit’s Big 3, and especially GM, have gotten themselves into (along with how our tax dollars are *DESPERATELY NEEDED NOW* to help them), I thought a little history lesson is in order.

Over the past 40 years, the new era of the electric vehicle has been heralded with the demonstration of sleek space age cars accompanied by exuberant press releases detailing the wonders yet to come.

The closest we came last time was in the early 90’s when defense contractors like Northrop and Lockheed Martin turned their considerable talents away from building Cold War death machines to leveraging their technical expertise into more commercially viable areas. The electric vehicle was a part of that plan and, funded with government money in the form of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), some of the EVs of that time from the Big 3 had powertrains designed by people whose talents were previously poured into spy satellites, missile systems and submarine propulsion systems.

The US industrial complexes were remaking themselves to adapt to new technologies that would make possible truly low emission transportation.

In hindsight, the apex of this era can be traced to the debut of the NiMH powered EV-1 in 1998. This press release from GM shows how little has changed in ten years.

Notice the timeline of hybrids by 2001 and fuel cell vehicles by 2004 along with the announcement of Ovonics’ NiMH batteries, a technology nearly completely buried and forgotten even though it showed the best performance and has the longest track record powering electric vehicles compared to any other advanced battery technologies. Also note the series hybrid with 40 miles all-electric range and a small gas motor (a turbine in this instance) to extend range to 350 miles (Volt anyone?).

GM also had the graciousness to acknowledge the part played by government, “which contributed to the technologies unveiled today.”

Something to keep in mind as the Big 3 come, hat in hand, looking for your money again. This time simply to keep them alive. Where’s our return from last time?

About Suhas Malghan

This blog documents the design and development of environmentally sustainable machines and humane design practice in general; machines that work for humanity as well on the move as they do sitting still.
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