A History of Chevy Electric Vehicles – A Long and Storied Journey

January 13th, 2016 by

 

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If the future of the automotive industry is going to rely on alternative fuel sources for our vehicles, then electric cars will undoubtedly be a part of that history. They’ve been around as long as gas cars – in fact, some of the earliest cars ever produced were all-electric, and after decades of rising and falling interest, it seems as though electric vehicles are finally starting to gain some real footing in the auto market.

For some automakers, like Chevrolet, electric vehicles are nothing new. In fact, Chevy as been working with electric vehicles for two decades, and in that time of all of that research and testing has produced some of the most highly respected electric-powered vehicles on sale at Kentucky Chevrolet dealers today: the 2016 Volt and Spark EV models.

Although these two new models are highly impressive for their capabilities and efficiencies, they are only the most recent in a string of impressive electric-powered vehicles from Chevy. Here’s a quick rundown on Chevy’s work with electric vehicles, and a quick peek into where they plan to take this technology in the future.

 

GM EV1

 

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After nearly a century of gas-powered dominance in the automotive world, nobody had a decent electric car. The average consumer couldn’t get the high-tech electric concepts that automakers were developing for trade shows, and automakers weren’t providing a mass-produced electric model that was affordable to the general public – until GM, that is.

In 1996, GM unveiled its EV1 model, an all-electric vehicle designed to take the average consumer about town without using a drop of gas. Although early electric technology notably limited the EV1 in speed in range well below what the average consumer wanted, the EV1 did manage to garner a loyal cult following among its early lessees. However, with to a high cost to build and not enough widespread interest to fuel further sales (the EV1 was lease-only), GM decided to discontinue the line, even going so far as to repossess and crush most of the EV1s on the road – despite consumer protest. Currently, only one intact EV1 survives at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, with other disabled models scattered worldwide.

This groundbreaking vehicle only paved the way for the future of electric vehicles at GM and at Chevy, including one truck model directly based on the EV1.

 

Chevrolet S-10 EV

 

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With the Pandora’s box of electric vehicles now opened, several automakers decided to jump into the electric vehicle game, including Chevrolet. With the introduction of its S-10 EV, marketed toward utility fleet customers, Chevy broke the mold of what a pickup could be. Featuring an all-electric drive, the S-10 EV could travel up to 60 miles on a single electric charge and could reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour – just 10 mph less than the GM EV1.

Chevrolet, however, actually opened this electric truck up for sale, not just lease, and managed to sell off about 60 of the S-10 EV trucks to fleet customers – meaning several of these trucks still survive on the road today. Unfortunately, Chevy decided to scrap the S-10 EV for many of the same reasons that GM scrapped the EV1, and so many of the unsold models were similarly crushed and scrapped.

The S-10 EV would be the last commercially-available electric car from Chevy for almost two decades. That doesn’t mean, however, that the company wasn’t still hard at work on this electric technology.

 

Chevrolet Mi-Ray

 

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After the “death” of the electric car in the mid-90s, consumers were not sold on the all-electric concept. With rising gas prices, however, more and more drivers were looking toward hybrid technology to combine the reliable performance of a gas engine with the emission free efficiency of electric. For a while, many companies made models that used hybrid drivetrains to balance performance and efficiency. Chevrolet experimented with hybrid SUVs, including the Tahoe and Silverado in 2013, but these met with limited success in sales. It wasn’t until Chevy took on a new strategy that things seemed to click.

See the Chevrolet Mi-Ray, a concept vehicle first unveiled at the 2011 Seoul Motor Show that would set a precedent for how Chevy would build the successful hybrid models of today. The Mi-Ray, with dual front-mounted 15-kW electric motors powered by a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion battery charged through regenerative braking, could power its front wheel using only electric power. This meant that drivers could take the Mi-Ray around the city using only front-wheel drive and not use a drop of gasoline – a revolution in driver-selectable efficiency that made the Mi-Ray essentially an electric car or hybrid car on demand.

 

Chevy Malibu and Chevy Volt

 

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Chevy would take this same idea and apply it to future hybrid models – with notable success. The 2016 Chevy Malibu comes with a hybrid drivetrain that can power the Malibu up to 55 miles per hour before the gas engine kicks in. This features the same system of letting the electric motor run alone for as long as it can before activating the gas engine to maximize efficiency. For light driving situations, you may not use gas at all.

And while the Malibu hybrid is designed to maximize the efficiency of the gas engine, its sibling the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is built to maximize electric range. Able to travel up to 53 miles on electric power alone, the Volt is designed to minimize gas usage as much as possible and rely on electric primarily.

And as impressive as these hybrid models are, Chevy has not been shy about ditching gas power altogether.

 

Chevy Spark EV and Chevy Bolt

 

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In its first move toward an all-electric mass-produced model since the S-10 of the mid-90s, Chevy unveiled its Spark EV – an all-electric version of the efficient compact Spark – for the 2015 model year. This sporty electric vehicle can reach an amazing 82-mile range on a single charge. And with the seemingly instantaneous acceleration that’s endemic among electric motors, you’ll really be able to feel the Spark EV’s 327 lb-ft of torque as you zip through tight urban roads without burning a bit of gas. Plus, not only can the Spark charge to full battery in just seven hours, but every Spark EV comes with an available DC Fast Charging option, which can charge the battery to 80 percent in just 20 minutes at a Fast Charging station.

 

Chevy Bolt

 

And soon to come is the already-announced Chevy Bolt, the mass-produced version of an all-electric concept first unveiled in 2015. This impressive and stylish hatchback is capable of driving as far as 200 miles on a single charge and can reach full battery in just nine hours. And although unparalleled in efficiency, this electric is also equally concerned with being a luxurious hatchback model, featuring seating for five, 56.6 cubic feet of cargo space and a 10.2-inch diagonal touchscreen infotainment display. For electric vehicle lovers, the Chevy Bolt EV represents the best of a good thing to come.

Clearly, Chevrolet is no stranger to the world of electric vehicles. With such a storied history, it’s no wonder Chevy’s current line of hybrid and electric models, and those coming up in the near future, are so impressive. If advances like these are going to keep coming, then we’re excited to see what else Chevy has in store for electric vehicles in the coming years.