DETROIT - Rumors thatCorp. had decided to give up on its innovative EV1 battery-powered coupe have circulated for months. They started when word leaked early last year that equipment for the EV1's "production line" at GM's Lansing Craft Centre was being removed to make room for assembly of the Cadillac Eldorado, which has moved out of GM's Hamtramck facility and into the Craft Centre.
Then comments made by GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce during the unveiling of the Precept hybrid car at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show seemed to confirm that GM's increasing focus on hybrid and fuel- cell technology would lead to a phasing out of the EV1, which is powered exclusively by batteries.
But Jeff Kuhlman, GM's director of energy and environmental communication, says the automaker will continue to sell EV1 through Saturn dealers in California and Arizona for the foreseeable future.
Inventory certainly won't be a problem: Saturn has enough vehicles in stock (about 400) to supply dealers for the next several years at current sales rates.
However, Mr. Kuhlman says current zero-emission mandates and possible new ones coming in other states still show there is a need for battery-powered cars.
And the EV1 continues to be improved, he adds. EV1s now coming off lease are being refurbished with improved lead-acid batteries that increase range from 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 km) to between 75 and 95miles (120 to 153 km). New EV1s are available - at extra cost - with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries that extend range to between 125 and 140 miles (201 and 225 km).
GM expected to sell several thousand EV1s per year, but despite attractive lease rates, it has moved only 600 since 1996.
The Ghost of Boss Kettering It may seem incongruous, but whenCorp. organized e-GM last summer to lead it charging into the Internet, it chose one of its oldest facilities to house the group: The grimy, vintage-1929 Argonaut Building just south of the old GM Building in midtown Detroit. GM's headquarters and most of its operations have moved out of the area to new digs in the Renaissance Center. Mark T. Hogan, a GM vice president who heads e-GM, sees no problem with the choice. "Boss Kettering did a lot of great work in this building," he says, referring to Charles Kettering, the renowned inventor who created the revolutionary self-starter before World War I. "There's something synergistic about being here," says Mr. Hogan, apparently hoping the Boss's ghost will provide some inspiration. He says e-GM likely will move eventually to new - or at least newer - offices in metro Detroit. Meantime, e-GM's spartan 11th floor offices serve its purposes just fine, rust-belt image or not. With the herd instinct enticing more techies to the wonderful world of dotcom, is e-GM finding it tough to compete for talent? First, only one in 10 Internet startups survive, Mr. Hogan estimates, so some folks may be looking for jobs. Second, e-GM is relying on outside Internet experts for many of its needs. Finally, Mr. Hogan says he's gotten "an overwhelming response" among students at major universities he has visited, such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the University of Michigan. Still, e-GM may have to stretch - think juicy stock options and other enticements - to get the best prospects.