The Electric Car Reborn

GM took tons of heat for killing its first electric car, the EV1. Now it's back with the Volt.

Published: 09-Jan-2008

It's early on a Sunday morning in December. Motor City is covered in slush and ice as Jon Lauckner, General Motors' vice-president of global program management, and a handful of colleagues board one of the company's private jets, a Gulfstream bound for sunny Anaheim, Calif., to attend the 23rd annual Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS23). There, with thousands of enviro-car enthusiasts in attendance, Lauckner and a few key members of GM's green team will be exhibiting the company's latest advances in zero-emission automotive technology, and laying out its strategy and timeline for bringing these to market. GM was a founding sponsor of EVS, and has been attending for more than two decades.

But this year is special. For the first time since 2002, when GM scrapped its Saturn EV1 electric-car project - an admitted strategic blunder that disappointed legions of fans and led to the company's vilification in Chris Paine's 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? - North America's largest automaker will be reporting real progress on the development of a battery-powered vehicle for ordinary drivers: the Chevy Volt. And Lauckner, a plainspoken, mustachioed Michigan native, will have the privilege of delivering the good news.

Frankly, GM needs some good news to talk about. Over the past five years, onerous union obligations, including the legacy health-care costs of its pensioners, have bled GM's finances at home.

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