How the GM Sunraycer Worked

The Sunraycer and the EV-1


The Sunraycer is widely vi­ewed as the predecessor prototype to the failed EV-1 program. In 1987, it's safe to say that solar-powered electric vehicles for mass transportation were considered gimmicky and not many people had alternate fuel on their minds. Fast forward 22 years to the economic struggles of 2009 and the inevitability of peak oil prices and it becomes obvious the U.S. auto manufacturers could have benefited from advancing the exploration of alternate fuel vehicles such as the EV-1. Nevertheless, the blame doesn't fall squarely on the shoulders of GM.

The EV-1 ran on the power of lead-acid batteries, similar to the battery found under the hood of your car, and they didn't have much range. GM stated the EV-1 had a range of around 120 miles (193.1 kilometers) which was later bumped to 160 miles (257.5 kilometers) with nickel-metal hydride batteries, but many drivers claimed the actual range was far less, especially when driven with accessories such as the air conditioner, heater or headlights on.

Compounding the lack of range, recharge stations were not readily available. The EV-1 could recharge in about two hours under ideal conditions. But perhaps the biggest problem was the cost. For about $38,000, drivers could lease the EV-1 and have the vehicle serviced through the company's Saturn dealerships. But herein lays the major snafu with the EV-1 program: Considering the EV-1 cost GM roughly $80,000 per vehicle, the Detroit manufacturer bled money with each sale [source: Bensinger].

GM sought-out and destroyed nearly all of the EV-1s toward the end of the program as documented in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" In the end, GM lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion on the EV-1 program. Who would have thought one vehicle program could cost a company so much?

While the EV-1 may have failed financially, the Sunraycer's legacy lives on. Find out what the automotive industry learned and what's in store for GM's electric vehicle program in the next section.


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