The EV1 could accelerate from 0–60 mph (0–100 km/h) in the eight-second range and from 0–50 mph (0–80 km/h) in 6.3 seconds.33 The car's top speed was electronically limited to 80 mph (130 km/h). At the time the EV1 (with lead acid batteries) was the only electric car produced which met all EV America performance goals of the United States Department of Energy.
The home charger installation (required for "fast recharge") was about 1.5 ft×2 ft×5 ft (0.5 m×0.6 m×1.5 m) with integrated heatsinks and resembled a gasoline pump. Charging was entirely inductive, and accomplished by placing a Magne Charge paddle in the front port of the EV1, although GM also offered a convenience charger (120 VAC) that could be used with any standard North American receptacle to slow charge the battery pack.
It was directly based on a prototype vehicle created by AeroVironment called the GM Impact. The Impact in turn was based on design ideas first tested out in a record-breaking race car called the Sunraycer, a solar-electric vehicle the company created in 1987 specifically to win the World Solar Challenge, a trans-Australia race open to solar powered cars only.
The predecessor of the EV1, the Impact, introduced at the January 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show, led to the Zero Emission Vehicle ("ZEV") mandate that year which was intended to curb California's growing problem with air pollution. Other members of what was then the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, plus Toyota, Nissan and Honda, each also developed a prototype ZEV. GM never offered the EV1 for public sale. It was only available to consumers under a lease program that had "no purchase" clause disallowing the vehicle's re-purchase at the conclusion of the lease.
The ZEV Mandate originally specified that by 1998, 2% of all new cars sold by the seven major auto manufacturers in the state of California were to meet 'zero emission' standards as defined by the California Air Resources Board and 10% by 2003.
Some analysts have suggested that it is inappropriate to compare the EV1 with existing gasoline powered commuter cars as the EV1 is, in effect, a completely new product and had no equivalent vehicles to be judged against. Perhaps the largest disappointment to consumers is that, having invested the research time and money to invent the technology required to produce the EV1, GM did not continue development of future EV designs. Effectively, the technological advantage GM built through this program was squandered.
It has recently been theorized by the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? that the EV1 program was eliminated because it threatened the oil industry and because it required virtually no maintenance and therefore threatened GM's profitability by undermining the replacement parts aftermarket as well as the company's strategy of planned obsolescence. GM responded to the film's claims, before actually having seen the movie, laying out several reasons why the EV1 was not commercially viable at the time.
According to interviews from various government officials and consumers in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?", many consumers and government officials questioned General Motors' commitment to the EV1 program. Concerns over inadequate marketing and limited vehicle supply have led some to believe that GM intended the EV1 program to fail.