GM Impact, prototype electric car
Early GM “Impact” prototype. The company would go on to rename it the EV1 and build about 1,100 of them. Nearly all have now been destroyed, with a handful held by GM for test purposes and a small number of non-functioning models donated to various universities and museums in North America. This car once held the official land speed record for electric cars at just under 185 mph.

EV1 Electric Car Timeline

A GM senior research manager shares his recollections on the early development timeline of the EV1 electric car

By Frank Jamerson, PhD

Editor's Note: Dr. Jamerson retired from GM in 1993 and readily acknowledges that his knowledge of EV1 development after that period is sketchy. If you can fill in the timeline, please share it with us in the reader’s comment, though we ask that only people directly involved in the program contribute.

Sometime in 1986 -- Roger Smith, GM’s CEO at the time, receives an invitation from Australia for GM to enter the first solar car race.  He sends it to Hughes Aircraft for consideration.  Comes to attention of Howard Wilson, a VP, who becomes the leader and champion for a GM entry.  Howard goes to Bob Stempel, GM President, for funds and authority to engage GM engineering help.  Also suggests using AeroVironment to make use of their low energy vehicle (solar aircraft) skills.  Paul MacCready puts his best engineers on the job and Howard finds top automotive engineers from several GM locations,

Late 1986 Early 1987--Wilson visits Frank Jamerson, manager division and staff contacts, at GM Research and wants to know if a lightweight motor can be designed and built using powerful Magnequench magnets invented by GMR Physics Dept. (under Jamerson's watch as Dept. Head) and going into production that year at Delco Remy.  Frank encourages the Electrical Engineering Dept. to design the motor and the magnets come from Remy.  GMR Magnequench motor delivered to Hughes and AeroVironment.

Spring-Summer 1987-- Full effort to design, build and test the Sunraycer before the race in Nov. 1987 in Australia. Prototype tested at Desert Proving Ground in Arizona.  Durability a critical issue and was well tested and improved from PG tests.

Nov 1987--Sunraycer shipped to Australia and wins 1st 2,000 mile solar car race by a wide margin.  Sunraycer becomes a standard for future solar car race designs. 

Original Sunraycer now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC with the signatures of all the team members on the under part of the solar panel (including Frank Jamerson, though admitting to being a minor player).

Early 1988 -- Howard Wilson discusses an idea he wants to propose to Bob Stempel.  The idea is to make a very efficient EV with the knowledge gained from Sunraycer but to make it an affordable car with decent range and performance equal to a gas powered car.  Stempel buys the idea and work begins at AeroVironment with help from Hughes, they are the lead, and GM engineers and Styling staff on interior/exterior design.  Hughes comes up with a non-contact (paddle) charger that is incorporated in the production version of the car.  Lead-acid selected as the battery that could be product ionized [sic] easily and 15 kilowatt-hours of battery at around 1,200 pounds goes into the Impact, now named.  Remy sets up production line for the battery.

1990 -- On January 3, GM had a press conference at Hughes Corporate HQ in Los Angeles to announce the Impact EV and let the press ride and drive.  This was tied to the LA auto show.  It was a smashing success.  Surveys taken at the show indicated the market would accept a production version so Roger Smith (CEO at the time) announced on Earth Day, April 22, that the Impact would go into production.  This was an astounding announcement that caught the Japanese by surprise and that CARB used as a signal to move toward a ZEV mandate for California.

Spring 1990 -- The Impact program was transferred to Engineering Staff at the GM Technical Center in Warren, MI to start the product ionizing [sic] process.  Idea for setting up a consortium of the big three with the feds to develop battery technology for EVs proposed by Don Runkel, VP Engineering Staff.

Summer 1990 -- Ken Baker, a chief engineer at Pontiac, was appointed Program Manager of Electric Vehicles and begins to build a team of top engineers to put Impact into production.  (Frank Jamerson joins as Asst. Program Manager, US Advanced Battery Consortium.)  Team and progress grows rapidly over next 3 years. 

1992 -- Preproduction models under test and evaluation. 

1993 --EV team scaled back and project delayed by Jack Smith, now CEO, with very poor financial performance of GM in 1992.

1995 -- EV team regroups to finish putting it into production.

1996 -- Vehicle name now EV1 and is a two -eater with 0-60 times well under 9 seconds and top speed of 80 mph and range of 90 miles highway and 70 miles city.  Weight is 2,970 pounds with 1,175 pounds of battery.  Test drive programs are run with a number of big utilities around the country.  I had one from Florida Power & Light for five days in Naples, FL for a GM retirees lunch and had over 150 people test ride it at the lunch and in my neighborhood and they all loved it.

1997-2000 (rough dates) GM leases around 600 EV1s through selected Saturn dealers mostly in CA and some in AZ.  All who had one, loved the EV1 and used it daily. 

2001-2002 -- About half the EV1s are retrofitted with NiMH batteries with higher kWh to get more range. 

Post 2002 -- GM decides to discontinue production of he EV1 after assessing the market potential less than needed to support the EV1 investment.   (Actually, there are indications the decision had been made to terminate the program as early as 1998 when contracts with suppliers began to be cancelled - Editor).

Times Article Viewed: 32164
Published: 22-Jun-2006


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