What was General Motors’ biggest missed opportunity?

Plant workers celebrate the 1000th EV1 produced, a 1999 model. GM

While we normally stray away from asking questions about a single brand here at According to You, this time we couldn’t resist. Because, at least when it comes to automakers, General Motors has a deep and diverse history from which to conjure up countless questions.

This week, let’s all ponder this one:

What was General Motors’ biggest missed opportunity?

My answer is a bit more recent: I think the General Motors EV1 was ahead of its time. It had a radical teardrop design and its improving performance over time (i.e. improved nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in 1999) was getting people excited about the idea of electric vehicles. The EV1 stood on its own as a functional machine, even without a larger-than-life CEO or sky-high stock valuation to lift it.

saturn t-shirts close
Chris Sundquist

As a halo car, the EV1 increased the excitement around other GM brands. Well, mostly the Saturn brand, as they were tasked with selling the EV1 in the first place. Saturn buyers were already rabidly loyal, and not the same slice of American apple pie that gravitated to trucks, performance cars, or Cadillacs. Even if these cars aren’t up your alley, the EV1 possessed the best elements of classic GM: engineering potency on par with a 1955 Chevy, obsessive styling like that of the 1967 Eldorado, and marketing prowess to open doors the way Alfred Sloan always intended.

Simply put, the EV1 was a magnet for would-be buyers who would have likely remained loyal to their cars for longer than the average customer. The loyalty would not be limited to the EV1’s market of big cities in Arizona and California, either. Places like Dallas, Atlanta, New York, and Boston (plus hundreds of places with thriving Saturn dealerships) had both the well-heeled, multi-car families and the charging support to make the EV1 a success.

Considering all the money spent to make small-time gasoline players like the Pontiac Fiero, the Cadillac Allanté, the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky twins, and the Buick Reatta, it’s possible that GM put too many of its eggs in the wrong baskets. And perhaps they crushed one of them a little too prematurely.

There’s a reason why hindsight has 20/20 vision, but just imagine a world where GM only hedged their bets on trucks/SUVs with the Corvette and the EV1? As our own Don Sherman said back in 2020:

“The EV1 is both the first modern electric car and the seed that grew into Tesla. Disgusted by GM’s crushing directive, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors in July 2003.”

The EV1 is much like kale. Sure, it’s good for you, but it ain’t so great for me. So I don’t buy kale at the grocery store, but I get why others do. Therefore, kudos to the grocery store for stocking it in the produce section. McDonald’s once tried selling Kale and really dropped the ball. Maybe McDonald’s and GM have a lot in common?

But enough about kale, let’s bring it back to cars. What do you think General Motors’ biggest missed opportunity was?

Let us know in the comments section below. 

Chelsea Sexton hugs Paul Scott during a vigil held outside of the GM Training Center on Riverside Dr. in Burbank, protesting GM’s plans to crush around 70 EV1 electric vehicles that are currently located in parking lot at the Training Center. Sexton and Scott are 2 of the organizers for the vigil that started back on February 16 and has been held every day since, 24 hours a day. Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Read next Up next: A half century ago, Bendix tested autonomous EVs right where automakers test them today


    Good ole GM.They repeatedly sit the highest tech in the world on the shelf until the others,decades later,bring it to market.Beyond all the agendas,GM OWNED the rechargeable vehicle and just gave that lead away.Dont care about the excuses,price,no chargers,etc,it had a market and as nothing more than test mules they would own it now.Because like it or not,electrics are mandated and thats another done deal.And another failure for GM.

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