Long live the electric car, once dead

An homage to the EV-1 now that Tesla rules the road

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I live in a city at the cutting edge of technology, so it was both a proud moment and not too much of a surprise when I found myself tailing, in quick succession, four Tesla cars one afternoon last week.

I love electric cars. In fact, I was one of the 1000 or so drivers of the EV-1. Remember that car? Put into limited production by GM in 1996, they were the first real promise of a future that didn’t rely on petroleum. And it was a beautiful vehicle, combining the clean lines of a lollipop with touches of a lunar pod. So many people stared when I drove by that I began to brush my hair and apply lipstick before I left the house.

Intent on showing off the technology, I took to drag racing unsuspecting gas guzzlers off of a red light (the car went from 0-60 in eight seconds), shouting Warp Speed! and then laughing maniacally as I left them in the dust (unfortunately there was no theatrical Vroom Vroom at the starting line – the EV-1 emitted only a faint hum.) The most satisfying were the wide eyes and enthusiastic thumbs-up as fellow drivers realized that an electric car was in their midst.

I felt like John Glenn returning from a space mission.The EV-1 was everything an American could be proud of. It was a concept that took hope, bravery, and bravado to make real.

Then GM halted sales. Claiming drivers were uninterested in electric cars and that its future was grim. it repossessed all EV-1s in 2002, This statement was clearly a lie, but GM persisted in it and my EV-1 was towed from my driveway with nary a note left behind. GM ignored protests, petitions and even a one million dollar offer for a car, and destroyed all EV-1s except for one — which was donated to a museum. Only later did it become clear that the technology had become threatening to automakers, who dreaded legislation demanding a decreasing dependence on gas. Out of sight, out of mind, they thought, and for a while it worked. Legislators believed that technology was lagging behind hopes of increased efficiency, and they rolled back gas mileage mandates and cancelled deadlines.

But ten years later, the all-electric car is back. Look, here’s a Nissan Leaf! There’s a Chevy Spark! Over there, a Ford Focus. Hope, bravery, and bravado race along the San Francisco streets, and now it’s my turn to grin widely, speed up alongside, and flash an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Caroline Paul is the author of "East Wind, Rain" and "Fighting Fire," and she co-wrote "Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology" with her partner Wendy MacNaughton. MacNaughton's illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Juxtapoz, and Print Magazine. "Lost Cat" was inspired by the curious disappearances of their beloved Tibia.
Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton
Tags: Downtime,Entrepreneurship,Tech Culture