Model of the car: GM EV1, 1996

Across America, evidence that the EV1 was once the most forward-thinking car on sale is elusive; none are owned by private drivers, and even the few EV1s displayed in museums and institutes cannot function.

1996 GM EV1
The EV1, with a drag coefficient of just 0.19, is the world’s slipperiest production car; this special four-seater model remained a one-off

Across America, evidence that the EV1 was once the most forward-thinking car on sale is elusive; none are owned by private drivers, and even the few EV1s displayed in museums and institutes cannot function.

General Motors built the EV1 to exploit the California Air Resources Board’s 1990 “Zero-Emission Vehicle” (ZEV) mandate, which decreed that by 2003, 10 percent of all cars sold in the state must be emissions-free to alleviate chronic pollution. They were so tailor-made for sunshine states—California, Arizona, and Georgia—that cold weather meant EV1s could suffer elsewhere.

Rather than sell the cars direct, EV1s were leased to selected customers, who paid up to $549 a month. Users were hugely enthusiastic about the plastic-bodied two-seater, which was smooth and quiet. It’s also the most aerodynamic car ever marketed, with a drag coefficient of 0.19. However, by 2004, and with all leases expired, General Motors destroyed the bulk of EV1s; it claimed the car was hugely loss-making, risked liabilities, and amended environmental laws made it redundant.

“Certainly when you put your foot down in an EV1, the fun of the snappy acceleration is slightly spoilt by the sight of the charge indicator heading for zero.”

The Economist Magazine , 1996

Video: model of the car GM EV1

Specification: model of the car GM EV1

YEAR REVEALED: 1996
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Lansing, Michigan
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: electric motor
MAXIMUM POWER: 137bhp equivalent
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, two-seater coupé
TOP SPEED: 80mph (129kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 1,117