General Motors was ahead of the game in the 1990s and delivered the first mass-produced electric car of the modern era. The EV1 was conceived in 1990 and developed by AeroVironment, based on knowledge gleaned by GM’s participation at the 1987 World Solar Challenge. Other companies involved were California-based AC Propulsion and Hughes Electronics, which is now known as DirectTV. It also inspired the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to start ensuring automakers had cleaner vehicles available.
The EV1 was launched in 1996, powered by lead-acid batteries, with a range of 70 to 100 miles. GM built just 600 cars and they were exclusively leased out in Southern California and Arizona to get things rolling. A second generation came out in 1999, using a nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH) with a range of 100-140 miles. However, in 2003 GM announced the end of the program claiming it couldn’t be made profitable. The automaker refused to extend the leases and started to reclaim the cars, despite having enthusiastic and loyal customers. In 2006, GM’s former Chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner, claimed that his worst decision while at GM was “axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn’t affect profitability, but it did affect image.”