Many are wondering how GM got to where it is today--in Chapter 11, restructuring, and dependent on government efforts to make that transition.
The company, which has been in business for more than 100 years and revolutionized the automobile with its invention of the catalytic converter, is now doing its best to make a comeback. However, after receiving $50 billion in taxpayer money, some people aren't sure that GM has an eye on the future, notably due to its failure to produce a car that excels in energy efficiency, like the Toyota Prius. In fact, GM's environmental record has been less than commendable.
Despite that Ford and Chrysler, the other two of the so-called Big Three, have taken a similar tack, GM has been subject to particular scrutiny. One reason for that scrutiny is its traditional role as the largest of The Big Three. Another was the company's dubious "starring role" in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. But how bad, or how good, really, is GM's century-long relationship with mother earth?
GM began experimenting with electric vehicles in the 1960s, when the environmental movement was just taking off, producing the Electrovair I and II and in 1970 creating the Electrovette. These forward-looking vehicles never made it past the car show display floors. But even that tryout didn't last long, and past the mid-1970s the electric car came to a halt. The problem?
"Lead plates and sulfuric acid, very low power density," said GM rep Tom Wilkinson, referring to the characteristics of the lead acid battery used in the vehicles, which ultimately led GM to ditch the project.
It wasn't until a quarter of a century later when GM seriously revisited the thought of producing an electric vehicle that could be used as something other than a concept car. And this time the motivation came from the state of California. In 1990, the Golden State mandated that five percent of all cars on the road be zero-emission vehicles by 1998 and that 10 percent be so by 2003. Just three years later, the Clinton Administration embarked on a $1 billion deal with the big three to improve upon vehicle fuel efficiency. With pressure from the top, GM went to work and created the EV1--short for Electric Vehicle 1--which was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1997. The EV1 turned out to be the most prominent victim in Who Killed the Electric Car. In 1994, halfway through the EV1 program, GM purchased half of Ovonic, a division of energy company Electronic Conversion Devices, which specialized in advanced energy technology.
"[ECD] formed a partnership, a joint venture with GM, fifty-fifty ownership [of Ovonic]," explained Mike Fetcenko, President of Ovonic Battery Company. He told HispanicBusiness.com that when ECD formed the relationship with GM, the auto giant became the exclusive licensee for Ovonic's Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) patents for vehicle application. He noted that GM was the only car company at the time to have access to this specific battery technology. The NiMH lasted 30 percent longer than a traditional Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) battery and was made from non-toxic metals, making it the more environmentally friendly than its predecessors.
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