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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.

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