Tesla and EV-only carmakers are legacy auto’s karma for killing the electric car

(Credit: Tesla)

Karma could be a cruel mistress. It has a tendency to sneak up from behind before delivering a cruel haymaker to the jaw. Karma takes a while to rev up sometimes, but when it comes, things change, and sometimes these changes can be painful. Considering the state of the auto market, as well as the momentum carried by companies like Tesla, Lucid Motors, and Rivian, it appears that legacy carmakers are finally dealing with some well-deserved karma — for killing the electric car.

The general death of EVs amidst the emergence of the internal combustion engine during the early days of automobiles is understandable. Back then, fossil fuels presented a cheap, efficient way to travel, with vehicles like the Baker Electric and the Porsche P1 taking a very long time to charge. However, the death of the electric car that happened in the late 90s was something that is far more difficult to justify.

During the mid-90s, a modern electric vehicle was created by General Motors, and it could have been the driving force of a change in the motoring world. The vehicle, dubbed the EV1, was on the bleeding edge of tech at the time, with its three-phase alternating current induction motor and lead-acid (later changed to NiMH) battery. It had enough range for inner-city travel, it was fast, and it was sleek. But inasmuch as it was beloved by those who leased it, the EV1 was fated to meet an unfortunate demise.

GM EV1 and Tesla Model S electric cars, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, Oct 2013

In a series of events that inspired the creation of the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car,” General Motors decided to discontinue the EV1, reclaiming the car from the leasees and destroying the vehicles. Segments of the acclaimed documentary depicted customers asking GM if they could just purchase the all-electric car, with some even holding demonstrations for the EV. But despite all these efforts, GM let the EV1 die, and most, save for a few, were unceremoniously crushed.

There were many speculations surrounding the EV1’s demise. General Motors insisted that the vehicle was not commercially viable. But the trend of large, gas-guzzling SUVs that followed the EV1 in GM’s lineup contributed to rumors that the electric car was killed because it represented a potential threat to the fossil fuel industry. In a sense, the electric car did die a painful, crushing death in the 90s, and it was not until Tesla came to the picture that EVs emerged as viable alternatives to gas-powered cars once more.

And it’s not like there was no resistance to the emergence of electric cars like Tesla, either. Tesla faced and continues to face strong opposition, and if it weren’t for its dedicated team and Elon Musk’s own stubbornness and resilience, the company could have followed the same fate as the EV1. But with vehicles like the Model S changing the game and cars like the Model 3 disrupting vehicle classes that used to be dominated by the internal combustion engine, it eventually became evident that this time around, it will be far more difficult to kill the electric car.

Lucid Air prototypes sit in the company's Headquarters in Silicon Valley. (Credit: Lucid Motors)
(Credit: Lucid Motors)

Amidst the success of companies like Tesla, even legacy automakers are playing catch up. Vehicles like the Jaguar I-PACE and the Chevy Bolt EV are representations of this. But even with these efforts, the pace of innovation in the electric vehicle segment is fast. Companies like Tesla work like tech companies, failing fast and failing forward. And now, legacy auto does not only have Tesla to contend with. Other premier electric cars from companies that are EV-only are coming. Tesla may have put EVs back on the map, but now, more companies are joining the fray.

There’s Lucid Motors with the Air, a hyper-luxury sedan that would likely put the Mercedes S-Class in its place. There’s the Rivian R1T and R1S, which bring luxury and comfort even in places off the beaten path. Even Bollinger Motors is attacking a small niche of rock-crawling vehicles with its no-nonsense, rough-and-tough B1 and B2. These are only the tip of the iceberg as well. Veteran auto is even getting increasingly dedicated to EVs, as evidenced by Porsche’s decision to revamp its entire factory in Zuffenhausen just to get the company ready for more electric vehicles like the Taycan.

It appears that this time around, killing the electric car will not be as simple or easy as before. Unlike the early 1900s, EVs now charge fast and they go the distance, and unlike the 90s, electric cars are now being embraced by mainstream consumers. There’s a demand for them, and EVs are now being noted for their performance. Electric cars are here to stay, and every single one that gets released is additional karma to an auto industry that appears to have dug itself far too deep into fossil fuels.

Tesla and EV-only carmakers are legacy auto’s karma for killing the electric car
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