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Drivers Find Outlet for Grief Over EV1s

Times Staff Writer

The memorial service Thursday began with a few moments of silence as the funeral procession moved slowly through the Hollywood cemetery. And why not? All 24 vehicles in the sad caravan were whisper-quiet electric cars.

Their drivers gathered to mourn the demise of the EV1, the futuristic, battery-powered General Motors automobile that was hailed in the late 1990s as the answer to smog alerts and gas shortages.

GM produced about 1,100 of the wedge-shaped two-seaters from 1996 to 1999 in what seemed to be the first wave of electric cars designed to meet tough air-quality rules. Because the EV1’s technology was considered experimental, the company leased the cars to drivers instead of selling them.

But the California Air Resources Board relaxed automobile-emissions requirements. GM, claiming efforts to market the car were a dismal and costly failure, last fall pulled the plug on the EV1 and began reclaiming the cars.

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Although drivers have remained enthusiastic about their electric cars, GM has refused to extend the $300-per-month leases or sell the vehicles

Drivers offered eulogies to the peppy, clean-running car during a sometimes-emotional mock service attended by more than 100 others at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Behind them were parked 15 sleek-looking EV1s, one shrouded in black crepe and covered with a funeral bouquet and others bearing personalized license plates such as NOT OPEC and REVOLTS. Nine electric-powered Toyota RAV 4s were also in the procession.

“We are gathered here to say goodbye,” solemnly intoned Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer of Van Nuys. “We are here to say goodbye to a special friend, goodbye to an idea -- to an ideal, to a dream.”

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Santa Monica filmmaker Chris Paine organized the unusual memorial. He has been ordered to turn in his EV1 on Aug. 13. It will be scrapped by GM.

“She died before her time, in perfect health, and perhaps when she was most needed,” he said. “Unfortunately, very few Americans had a chance to drive an electric car before it was canceled.”

The EV1 was only offered to motorists in California and Arizona. Enthusiasts say that most of them where snapped up by Southern California drivers. GM has reclaimed many of them, leaving only about 100 on Los Angeles streets, according to Paine.

Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who has had an EV1 for five years, got a laugh from the crowd when he said he will continue driving his “until December, when GM will have to pry it out of my charger’s dead, cold hands.”

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Actor Ed Begley Jr. said he has driven electric cars since 1990. He drew applause when he wryly observed that “the detractors of electric vehicles” are correct when they claim battery-powered cars aren’t for everyone. “Given their limited range, they can only meet the needs of 90% of the population,” said the Studio City resident.

Several designers and engineers who helped create the EV1 were among the mourners. One of them, Wally Rippel of Altadena, suggested that the electric car is not dead. “It will go on, perhaps with a different body,” he said.

“Really, it’s a time for rejoicing,” added another, famed aeronautical and solar inventor Paul MacCready of Pasadena. “Technology makes it inevitable there will be more electric vehicles in the future. And it’s all because of the EV1.”

The crowd lingered after the service ended. Actress Alexandra Paul, an EV1 driver, took a test ride on a battery-powered Segway scooter ridden in the procession by Joseph Chiu, a computer engineer from Pasadena.

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There were hugs among the environmentalists, engineers and EV1 enthusiasts and a bagpiper mournfully played a dirge.

Then they piled into their electric cars and -- very quietly -- faded away.


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