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summary of responses to the EV1 Liability Article

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  • josh
    I thought there were quite a few constructive responses to the EV1 liability article sent to me via email and posted on the web next to the article. All of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2002
      I thought there were quite a few constructive responses to the EV1
      liability article sent to me via email and posted on the web next to
      the article. All of the posts seemed to make good points, whether I
      agreed with them or not.

      Here is a non-comprehensive collection (I don't recall a single note
      that didn't seem to make good points, so if I leave any out, it is
      merely an omission based on time constraints):

      At least two readers voiced a reaction that can sort of be summed up
      as (To GM:) "Oh, Please":

      >Tullio Falini Jr.'s Comments on EV1 : Victim of Liability Laws?
      >November 25,2002 -- If what I'am hearing is the reason we no longer
      >have an EV-1 is becuase GM could not get over the product liability
      >hurdle; and or could not make the cars safe enough that they won't
      >catch fire while charging; I can only say to GM (and whoever else it
      >applies to) that I AM NOT IMPRESSED. Other companies in other
      >industries have these same hurdles. Are you a car company or are you
      >not? Are you in the busness of destroying cars as well as making them?
      >We need technology put into cars that can meet the new needs of our
      >new century. Why aren't the RAV4 EV's catching fire? Either meet the
      >world's transportation needs or get out of the car busness and make
      >room for those who can. As you can see, I'am frustrated and tired of
      >hearing excuses.

      Another reader thought similarly:

      >Derek Dexheimer's Comments on EV1 : Victim of Liability Laws?
      >November 26,2002 -- GM's public rationale is ludicrous. Just compare
      >the EV1 with the Hummer. How many Hummers are there, versus the number
      >of EV1's that were leased? [...]

      I sort of agreed with these responses, in the sense that many times I
      thought to myself, you have *got* to be kidding. This is a HUGE
      company with gazillions of liability concerns, and they're letting
      liability stop them on this one small program?

      But having 1000-1500 quasi-prototypes on the road does sound like a
      somewhat different situation than other liability concerns, so I guess
      that counter-argument could be made.

      As to the Hummer, the program has not been ended, while the EV1
      program has been ended, so the question does arise as to what to do
      with the EV1.

      If all this liability and fleet-maintenance concern is true, and if an
      exception to the concern can be found in the donation of partial
      vehicles to schools and museums, then why has GM been sort of nasty
      about further donations?

      At least three parties contacted me during and after this article
      asking where they could call to receive a partial EV1 for their museum
      or School Program, and I was unable to make any progress with GM.

      For example:

      >...I read your article on the EV1 could you give me the
      >number of the best contact at GM to get a EV donation to our non profit
      >foundation, the [...] Museum. Any information or help is appreciated.

      I never was able to give a satisfactory an answer, except to pass on
      what I'd been told, which is that any donations had already been
      arranged-for awhile ago, and further donations were unlikely at best.
      But why was this the best answer that could be given? Why needlessly
      destroy any of them? There are *plenty* of other Universities and
      Museums that seem to want donations.

      One EV1 owner wrote me. His views were not necessarily representative
      of others I'd read. Many EV1ers' views can be partly summed up:

      1. The car is awesome.
      1a. GM made it a pain in the neck to get one.
      2. They won't let me keep it.
      3. I will never buy another GM product, because of how
      disgusted I am with them.

      This EV1er was somewhat different. I'm not trying to reprint his
      views as being my own, but I pass them on for others.

      >Anyway, I wrote as an EV 1 owner, noting that one of the Gen 1 fires occured
      >near my house and was quite severe. I blame this on the complex and
      >unnecessary inductive charging system. For a fuller critique, see AC
      >Propulsion's web site with notes by the original designer of the Impact.
      >I am nearing the end of my Ni MH EV lease, and I agree that I will probably
      >never have another car with the same "punch" - a thrilling and effortless
      >surge of power at any speed. However, I am getting a little burnt out
      >regarding the incessant gear whine, hard ride, laboring air conditioner
      >during charging, and gradually falling range. My initial 100-140 mile range
      >has dropped to 80-100 miles, despite replacing several modules along the
      >way. The batteries are getting tired after only 30K miles, and this is
      >discouraging considering they are fairly advanced. My car had 14 problems
      >large and small, including two charger failures, requiring 75 days in the
      >shop, although it has run well for the last year. Had it been as faithful as
      >the average electric appliance, I would be touting it as the "VW 2000", but
      >it appears the technology still needs some work. I will never regret
      >"owning" this car however, it's been a quite unique experience. But I can
      >understand GM's reluctance to have thousands of them to support.
      >GM sent out a letter announcing that some of the second run would be kept in
      >operation, but only in GM employee hands, in New York to test cold weather
      >operation. This is consistent with your findings regarding liability
      >exposure, but at least it's some small comfort to know there will be some
      >further testing.

      This reader's experience with his NiMH batteries seemed to jibe with
      what I'd heard recently from two other folks. Stephen Ellis of Honda
      had mentioned this degradation of NiMH batteries in their EV+ program
      (he's both driven the vehicle and communicated with many owners, but
      the degradation was not consistent from vehicle to vehicle), and a
      Toyota RAV4 EV dealer had mentioned that some EV1 owners were coming
      in with severely decreased range, seeking to buy a RAV4 EV (which also
      has NiMH batteries... so apparently it did not deter them to the point
      of avoiding the technology). I don't know if this apparent problem
      with NiMH battery technology has been worked out in succeeding
      iterations, such as in the present RAV4 or in subsequent Ovonic

      Bear in mind that a full pack for an EV can cost anywhere from $12,000
      (isn't that the replacement cost for a RAV4 EV pack, .. I can't
      recall) to $30,000 (approximate cost for one single water-cooled
      prototype pack from Ovonic, last I heard from a rumor about a year
      ago). So, lifetime of the NiMh battery should be a big concern to any

      He continued, in a further mail:

      >My reading of the entire EV1 saga is that GM was forced into doing something
      >by the California mandate, the Impact came along which was really one of
      >those rare remarkable design breakthoughs where lots of bold innovations
      >came together to make a temptingly viable prototype, and then GM got sucked
      >into a money pit that is now an internal scandal. To their credit they tried
      >to make the EV1 into a real car, and then the "last 10%" syndrome set in,
      >where projects drag on consuming money as the engineers grapple with
      >intractable problems. One problem they have cited is increasing safety
      >requirements that preclude continuing production beyond this model year. I
      >don't normally waste much sympathy on GM, who have squandered their
      >leadership position on as lackluster and annoying a generation of cars as
      >you'll ever see, but in this case I feel badly for them.


      One reader is an 18 year old soon to go to college, and he is very
      into engineering EVs.

      It occurred to me that just as consumer demand was disrespected in the
      course of refusing to lease the EV1 to some of the folks who wanted
      them, so too there is also a consumer demand issue in the sense that
      some folks are "consumers" of jobs. What future can this young man
      look forward to, if the largest American auto company does not make
      more of an effort to pursue further production of such a wildly
      popular (amongst those allowed to drive it) car? If, in four years,
      he is an engineer looking to work on EVs, why will it be necessary for
      him to look for work elsewhere, if he can find it at all?

      I was unable to give this student a very good idea of the best
      Universities to attend for studying alt-fuel vehicles, but I think it
      would make a good idea for an article, if a student had researched
      this anyway, to make a listing (and perhaps a loose ranking) of
      programs and colleges, based on their level of alt-fuel study. These
      questions seem to come up periodically, and I don't know enough of the
      schools that are good for this sort of study.

      He is to go to Carnegie Mellon, so I hope they're able to hook him up.
      One reader worked on the EV1 and he had fond memories of it. It's
      always a rare treat to hear from such workers. A pity we must speak
      in the past tense, of working on it.

      One reader was from the "Isn't it obvious that Liability Law plays an
      important role here?" camp:

      >Russ Shreve's Comments on EV1 : Victim of Liability Laws?
      >November 25,2002 -- Bill I have mentioned to you many times the reason
      >GM leased EV rather than sell is liability. Product Liability has
      >become an enormously expensive burden in this country. However, there
      >is one point to your article that is not valid. There is no Implied
      >Warranty law in the US. There are Fitness For Purpose laws, and some
      >states have Buyers Remorse laws, but there is no Federal law requiring
      >parts and service for ten years. The only parts and service
      >requirements on the manufacturer are the terms of their own Warranty.
      >The ten year thing came from Billie Durant when he set up GM. His
      >reasoning was GM could make a profit from parts and service on the
      >cars they sold for ten years. However, it was an arbitrary thing, and
      >was never a promise of parts and service for any period of time. In
      >general, the auto industry as a whole adopted the GM model. Some years
      >ago a well known offshore manufacturer was being sued for selling a
      >limited production vehicle in the US, because they were not providing
      >parts and service to the vehicle owners. The manufacturer asked me
      >about the Ten Year Law. I researched the issue, and found there is no
      >such Law, just the general philosphy originating with Billie Durant.
      >They won their case. Russ
      One e-mailer was a professional in the securities industry who was
      pretty much unhappy with the whole article, in that I did not really
      delve into the reasons that GM ended the entire program, let alone why
      they're now crushing the car here at the end:

      >I read your article and based upon my long following of the EV1 program, you
      >rehashed some of the old stories that were out there.
      >Why not go to Baker and Stempel and some of the guys who worked on the car
      >and find out the truth. I am tired of suppositions and innuendos. Someone
      >knows the truth. My guess is, you are simply spinning the latest damage
      >control out of GM.
      >I appreciate, that you recognize the EV1 to be a great car. That is
      >consistent with everything I have ever read. Why not to the heart of answer
      >and find out why a company like GM would crush the car? I am sure Stempel
      >and Baker and others know. The question is, will they say? Stempel is
      >still trying to sell NiMH batteries to GM.
      >Don't you find it interesting that GM never put the NiMH in the EV1?
      >Doesn't this beg the question, why? Wasn't the reason given for building
      >the car and spending a billion dollars, the new battery technology? Am I
      >to believe, the new NiMH battery is good enough for the new Japanese
      >hybrids, but not good enough for the EV1? Do you think that perhaps the
      >reason the car was scraped, was because of the GM bureaucracy and unions?
      >What would happen to the people who make radiators, or spark plugs, or
      >engine blocks, or cooling system parts, or ignition systems? I wonder how
      >much money is spent annually on attorney fees to fight CARB compliance,
      >versus making a car which complies with the law? Why not write an article
      >that focuses on the mind set at Detroit that spends billions on fighting
      >compliance and the economic reasons behind it? In so doing, why not compare
      >the think in Japan versus Detroit? Toyota says every model will be a
      >hybrid in 10 years. Detroit does not have its first vehicle on the road.
      >One of the pieces of the puzzle would be to talk to William Clay Ford about
      >the economics of compliance. I sense he wants to do the right thing. How
      >much of the burden does the federal government need to shoulder without
      >wasting tax payers money?
      >I give your article a D for hashing over information spinning out of
      >Detroit. Nothing new here, and in my judgment horribly naive. You might
      >want to ask Michael Snayerson at Vanity Fair. If you read the book, you
      >would sense that powers within GM were fighting to can the program before
      >the first bolt was turned.

      Far be it from me to stand in the way of someone asking that we
      examine more reasons why Detroit and other Auto Giants are not making
      what some of us consider to be the vehicles we want to drive. In this
      assignment I confined myself somewhat to the question of why it's
      necessary to crush the cars, but I think this article also came across
      as an attempt to get more decisive answers to the much broader
      question of why stop the program in the first place. The latter
      question is more important and, in my opinion, very much an open one.
      I would not want this article to be taken as some sort of "proof" that
      I or other EV advocates consider the overall question "settled" as to
      why the automakers won't make EVs. I regard that as a very open

      I don't know about any Vanity Fair article, but various answers that
      sometimes seem to come up in hypothesizing and discussion of the
      broader "Why not make EVs?" question are:

      1. The desire for the present business pecking-order to remain
      status-quo, since a great upheaval in the technology could result in a
      great change in which companies are the leaders.

      2. They fear becoming just "coach" makers, where any new advanced
      battery maker can replace their engines.

      3. They cannot justify the costs of stranded assets such as the
      billion-dollar infrastructures they've created to make and service
      engines. For example, I believe Honda spokespersons have alluded to
      their succesful investment in better IC engine technology and their
      reluctance to just walk away from that.

      4. EVs might prove more reliable (after the kinks are worked out)
      because they have so many fewer moving parts, and this is something
      that might hurt the profits of the auto-repair infrastructure (such as
      aftermarket parts and labor and so forth).

      5. Oil Companies and Auto Companies have inter-twined business
      interests and people and shareholders, it is sometimes alleged, so
      there is a big disincentive built into the system to allow consumers
      any vehicles which could use non-Oil-Company fuel (and, basically, no
      such vehicle has ever been offered nationwide, unless we count that
      biodiesel could be widely substituted into diesel engines).

      6. Lack of demand. (Allegedly).

      7. Lack of suitable batteries.

      8. Safety concerns (and concommitant liability concerns) in
      developing such new, relatively untried, technology.

      9. Recycling concerns for batteries.

      10. The auto companies allege the technology is presently too
      expensive and they imply that it cannot be made cheaply enough to
      entice sufficient consumer demand.

      I dunno. I make this non-comprehensive list really just to give an
      idea of the many points one runs across in trying to understand why we
      can't seem to get more highway capable grid-chargeable
      (non-fossil-fuel powered) vehicles made for us.

      There are plenty of counter-arguments to these points as well.

      For example:

      1. There's demand for EVs, though how much demand is a matter of
      debate, depending on price.

      2. With economies of scale and a can-do attitude, and standardization
      of new parts, we could bring some prices down. Aside from the
      difficulty of making top-notch batteries, I haven't heard anything
      about EVs which is inherently overly expensive, though there could be

      These are just some of the many reasons that might prove to be helpful
      in understanding the present anti-EV decision-making. The reader
      above was pretty upset, but I thought he made some good points, so I
      was glad he wrote. I did go easy on GM, he was quite correct. This
      was partly the result of a relatively narrow focus, and a rush to get
      some of this covered, as GM is destroying the vehicles, as we speak.
      I want to give the readers "the real deal" but sometimes it's hard to
      find it, and sometimes I don't know it.
      Another reader posted on the evworld.com site, and he is apparently
      long familiar with the issues, he is familiar with the
      excuses-often-given, and he will have none of it:

      >Hugh Webber's Comments on EV1 : Victim of Liability Laws?
      >November 29,2002 -- After renting an EV1 for four days in Y2K, I've
      >tried to Get GM to sell me one for the last two years. I've gathered
      >almost 1500 Americans' signatures on EV1 petitions and let GM know
      >about that too; now I'm about to buy a hybrid Honda, so I sent this
      >parting comment to the GM AFV folks (GMEV quit taking comments a year
      >ago): ------------------------------------------------ I have tried
      >for two years to buy a GM EV1-. I have over a thousand petition
      >signatures asking GM to sell the EV1 at:


      >I am
      >about to buy a foreign electric automobile because GM will not sell
      >the EV1. See you in court.
      >------------------------------------------------- I worked in a
      >hospital for 14 years and saw what the insurance industry has done to
      >ruin health care, so now I'm going to attack them for sabotaging EVs.
      >I'm just getting warmed up, folks!

      I salute this activist in his pursuit of better cars and better

      In any case, thx for the letters, and I hope this summary of others'
      opinions has proven somewhat informative.

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