The government mandate for a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) was legislated for market availability beginning in 1998. Most manufacturers sought to meet the requirements using electrically powered vehicles, and this account of how General Motors (GM) developed its own electric car traces the birth and initial testing of prototypes through market planning and final designs. The author was granted unprecedented access to the electric car program at GM for three years, during which time he regularly visited research and development facilities while documenting the creation of a new technology that seemed impossible only a few years ago. Although this story of GM's bid to become the world's first mass producer of an electric car is both intimate and dramatic, it is also premature. The government has extended the requirement for automakers to produce ZEVs until 2003, and it is expected that changes in the technology and focus of such vehicles will make them quite different from those depicted here. Still, as a tale of corporate politics, high-risk investment, and management fortitude, this book stands on its own merits. For large public libraries.Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, R.I.
Allowed complete access to GM's top-secret electric-car project, Shnayerson tells the story of the assorted VPs and engineers as if this were a thriller.
Vanity Fair contributing editor Shnayerson (Irwin Shaw, 1989) does a masterful job of presenting a seemingly hopeless situation: building a more energy-efficient mousetrap. Shnayerson's explanations of the technical terms are clear and concise, and his understanding of the machinations of the GM behemoth is remarkable. The book begins with Ken Baker, a GM exec who'd failed at one electric-car project already but was willing to try another. Baker, whose interaction with other managers provides a terrific bird's-eye view of GM, is a sweet, hard-working leader who battles his weight along with the strict hierarchy. Engineer Alan Cocconi, a shy, sardine-popping genius, headed the "Sunraycer" team in its quest to build a cleaner, cheaper car and created a teardrop-shaped design so streamlined it was able to cross Australia with the energy equivalent of five gallons of gas. GM head Roger Smith (unwilling star of the film Roger & Me) became enamored with their first prototype, hideously renamed Impact, and previewed it at a 1990 auto show. CARB, the California group that regulates car pollution, took note and immediately raised its emissions standards. Car makers spotted a trend as well; Ford began to test its own electric vehicle, the Ecostar. But industrywide problems with batteries were persistent and absurdly costlyestimates to develop a new type of battery ran as high as $1 billionand GM itself faced a tumultuous financial situation. Shnayerson's account of what happens nextto big Ken Baker, to the Impact, and to GMis fun and beautifully written.
Although it's not clear whether the electric car is the real thing, this business adventure story has heroes, a villain or two, and genuine hope for the future.