Remembering the '97-'98 Chevy S-10 EV

Chevy EV front 3 II
 By Gary Witzenburg

In the 1990s, GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Division developed and built the revolutionary, bullet-shaped EV1 electric two-seater and then gave up on it three years later after low consumer response. Only a few hundred EV1s were leased in five launch markets in Arizona and California.

The EV1 is well-known, but fewer people may know that the same GM division developed a battery-powered Chevrolet S10 compact pickup for fleet buyers. Among its initial customers were the U.S. Air Force and several utility companies, including Virginia Power, Detroit Edison, Boston Edison, Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Like its EV1 cousin, the S10 EV was produced in tiny numbers – just 492 over two model years. And like the EV1, after it was canceled along with its parent program, the leased S10 EVs were recalled and destroyed when the leases expired. Why? To protect GM’s proprietary EV technology, protect against liability lawsuits (with 312 volts on board) and protect GM dealers from having to stock out-of-production EV parts. GM probably didn’t want to train technicians to service the vehicles for many years to come.

But whereas the EV1 was a lease-only program, some 60 S10 EVs were sold, and some are probably still in service.

“When some of the utilities were done with them, they put them up for sale,” says Garrett Beauregard, who worked on the EV1 and the S10 EV as an engineer before leaving GM for Phoenix-based Ecotality, where he is now senior vice president of engineering. “We had four of them owned by employees. When I came down here to interview, I was picked up in an S10 electric and driven to the office in it by the guy who would become my boss. He had personalized it with a body kit, side skirts, an air dam and aluminum wheels, and (he) lowered the suspension, so it was kind of sporty-looking. He really loved that truck! Another guy, Tom Convey, had the last one here. He sold it to a physician in Minneapolis.”

Chevy EV engine II
Convey remembers that truck very fondly. “The smooth, quick acceleration was like taking off in a light aircraft. The sound of the gear whine reminded me of a turbine engine. If GM made a vehicle like that again, I’d buy it in a minute! I miss that truck!” Beauregard recalls conducting EPA-type dynamometer energy tests and proving-grounds range tests with S10 EVs at GM, and “walking through a room set up for development of the owner’s manual, looking at all the pages and providing feedback on it.”

The S10 EV was essentially a base Chevy S10 short-bed compact pickup powered by a “detuned” EV1 electric drive system (114 horsepower, or 85 kilowatts) to help extend its range. That made the S10 EV front-wheel drive and very heavy at 4,199 pounds, yet it preserved a 951-pound payload under the 5,150-pound gross vehicle weight rating. Of that, 1,400 pounds was the 16.2-kWh lead-acid battery pack tucked between the frame rails under the bed.

To supplement its energy-efficient heat-pump air-conditioning system below 40 degrees, the S10 EV carried a diesel-fuel-fired heater to warm the battery and (secondarily) the cabin. Other differences from the EV1 included a less sophisticated regenerative braking system and its truck-capable wheels and tires. Distinguishing the electric S10s from conventional counterparts were a front air dam and a half-tonneau over the rear of the bed, both to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Another GM engineer with clear memories of the S10 EV program is Gary Insana, who was program manager in charge of the build process. “It was pretty straightforward,” he says. “We had to take out the gasoline engine, fuel system and everything else on the gasoline side, modify the chassis and put in the electric components -- the motor, power electronics, heat pump, electric power steering and the large battery pack. We set up a satellite facility just outside the Shreveport, La., S10 plant and did chassis assembly there, then transported the chassis back to the main plant for final assembly.”

Clive Roberts, the GM ATV development engineer who did such a marvelous job of making the EV1 ride and handle as well as it did, remembers working briefly on the S10 EV. “I did a minimal amount of tuning,” he says, “and found the handling pretty gruesome. But I was told by more experienced truckees that was how life was with a heavily laden truck. We played with the rear-axle kinematics to get something bearable and did a small amount of damper tuning, but then I was told to stop by the chief engineer because it was ‘good enough.’ ”

Not surprisingly, cost and range posed major challenges for GM’s S10 electric. List price (for those that were sold) was $33,305, a hefty ticket for a low-range compact pickup. The U.S. Department of Energy financed third-party testing by a company called EVAmerica -- now the Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA) – and it came up with ranges of 38.8 miles at a constant 60 mph, 60.4 miles at a constant 45 mph and 43.8 miles on the EPA test cycle. Southern California Edison’s three test trucks logged 35 to 43 miles of real-world range on a local urban loop. Newly developed 39-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery packs, an option for the 1998 model year, doubled the truck’s usable range, but at significantly higher cost. 

Chevy EV hoist II
Roberts recalls seeing an S10 EV in China when he was there as GM China’s chassis development director. “We sent five EV1s and five S10 electrics to China for a demonstration program in the Guangdong province,” Insana says. “There is an island there that they were trying to make ‘green’ with a lot of windmills and electric vehicles. I went out there with a couple of technicians to train them, and we swapped the batteries out for NiMH packs. We never did get an order, so that program never went anywhere.”

One S10 EV set records in three world-famous Pike’s Peak Hill Climb competitions. Its efforts are (surprisingly) listed at No. 8 among Chevy’s “Top 10 Moments in Chevrolet Motorsports.”  Larry Ragland drove the S10 EV to victory at the 1997 contest.

Why did GM invest money and resources to develop a compact pickup EV in addition to its hugely expensive (and ultimately unsuccessful) EV1 program? “It was a demonstration process,” Insana says. “There were many fleet-type customers with duty cycles that represented good applications for electric vehicles -- short drives that could be all electric, then back to the same location for charging each night. The goals were to test the capability of that type of vehicle, to understand that customer base and see how this vehicle would fit that profile, and to test what relevance it would have to those customers’ needs.

“And there were many efforts to get more advanced batteries in those vehicles after we stopped supporting them. Several companies were pursuing outside avenues for advanced batteries because they very much liked the concept of electric trucks, but needed more range.” And that pretty much sums up battery-powered EVs’ toughest challenge today as well.

Chevy EV charging 2 II

The charging unit in the photo is an inductive "loop" system, the same type originally used on the early EV1 vehicles, but no longer in use today. 

Chevy EV paddle II

Chevy EV racing 2 II

Chevy EV monroney

Comments

great article.

i guess we must learn from past electric vehicles they were "destroyed" because they wouldnt sell ...what makes them think that truck buyers are willing to give up our current trucks for an all electric truck.?

it just takes away most of the payload capacity and towing numbers.


I MISS THE S10....

Hybrids, electric or diesels aren't the answer. Cars or trucks that can run on air or water( not hydrogen) are the definite answer to the dependecy on fossil fuel. They are renewable and infinite in supply. Only problem is, when and where will the infrastructure develop? Until then, we have no choice but continue to use gas. With the fluctuations in diesel, e85, propane, and the inefficient ratio fo price to fuel mileage in hybrids and electric cars and trucks, it doesnt make sense to use anything other than gasoline. Sure gasoline will run out, but its most likely in a hundred or two hundred years, in which case automakers will have developed a solution, or worst case, they don't and run out but by that point I will be dead so I wont have to worry about it. Same goes for windmill, hydroelectric and and solar panel. Useless sources of energy if you ask me.

Nice article. I miss the S-10 too. Way better than the Colorado.


There is enough oil to last several lifetimes,basically we will never run out of oil..

Colorado has more oil than Saudi Arabia ! Yes,just the State of Colorado !!!

Vehicles dont pollute that much,and each year they pollute less,there is no reason to get off of oil !!

Electric vehicles are duds,low range,they pollute(batteries),and guess what will happen to electricity rates when everybody plugs in their ride,we already have brown outs !!! We wont be able to afford to turn on our house lights/heat yet alone to drive if we all get on the electric car bandwagon ! Where I live they run adds telling you dont use power during peek hours,turn off your lights dont use the heat,dont use the a/c...now plug in a vehicle it will cost you $5000 per month or more for household electricity !

Obama already said under his plan Electricity rates will skyrocket !!

Furthermore,windmills are not effective,they do more harm than good,plus they cant even store the power (the very limited they make)Yes,they do harm kill up to 1,000,000 birds per year,even beloved eagles,have a loud noise (thump,thunp) that kills bats and harms people...

Stop being brainwashed into thinking electric vehicles are the answer,we already have the answer GAS !! Electric vehicles are an old technology,it goes back to the late 1800's and in the early 1900's alot of cars were electric,electric vehicles are a tried and failed mode of transportation !! We need more refineries,and drill more that will ease the pressure as the middle east will lower the price of oil within a few weeks.

Gas is a nonrenewable resource which means it will run out, when it will run out is the question.

Gas is not a natural resource, we will run out of gas soon as the refiners shut down. Oil is a natural resource, it is renewable, its just we will use it all up before we can generate enough new oil.

I agree on all accounts... good article and the design of the S-10 was absolutely spectacular. The Colorado is/was a dud. GM and Chevrolet would have been better off producing a CNG version. CNG eventually might win the alternative fuel war.

I must be the exception as my 1995 S10 was a piece of dog poo. The 4.3L little was gutless and the auto tranny was only able to randomly select the correct gear.

The EV1 S10 looked like it could be a nice package.

The S-10 rocked. MUCH better than the stupid Colorado name and looks like it came from China. My favorite small truck till this very day is still the first S-10. I had a 1992 that I wish I never would have sold. That's the last great American small truck ever built in my opinion. Man, what happened to Chevy??? That company has just gone down the tubes. Even my 2006 Silverado is a pile of junk compared to my 92 S-10. And compared to my 96 Silverado, my 2006 is an absolute chintzy built pile of garbage. I'd dump it for a new one if the new ones weren't so ugly. Heck, I'd trade it back in for my 96 today if I could. My 96 Silverado was twice the truck my 06 is.

As far as gas mileage concerns go, why not just use more composites to make things lighter? I ordered my 2001 Silverado with a composite bed and it was tough as nails. I sold that truck to my neighbor in 06 when I bought a new Silverado-classic. I already have rust on my bed, my old truck still looks like new minus the rocker rot which is standard on these body styles.

Guys I have been an avid member of this site for so many years I almost have to take my shoes off to count the years. There have to be at least 20 different commenters that I have had major ideological disagreements with but I try really hard not to bad mouth people or name call but holy hell did some of you read what you posted?!

The only thing that I can think of that runs on air or water requires both at the same time and that is a sail boat. That isn't going to work at all. What else can use exclusively air for transportation besides a bird?! And what about water if we don't use it for hydrogen production?! It is non-combustible, pH neutral, non-compressible, what are we supposed to do with it? If you had something specific in mind you better share with the rest of us.

Secondly if we are only to use air and water how can we say that windmills, hydro power and solar are all bunk and don't work? Did you read your own post? All of them function very well and are cost effective, depending on your geographic specific inputs.

Third, today's lithium batteries cause negligible pollution in the manufacturing of the end product and the mining of the mineral. There is quite literally only a couple of ounces of lithium in a Leaf or Tesla battery and they aren't toxic and fully recyclable.

Fourth, do you have any idea how little electricity will be used by an EV? If you drive 35-40 miles per day you only have to charge up every other day and you can only use 80% of the battery capacity (19kWhrs) so roughly 285 kWhrs a month. At a typical rate of $.10 per kWhr that is $28.50 a month to have your crazy asinine $5000 a month you'd need a 20,000% increase in your electric rates!

Fifth, no electricity source can store its own power. What does that have to do with anything in your argument? We have known for years that we waste about 52-56% of all the electricity we generate each year. If we could store it that would be killer but right now we should probably focus on not wasting the power to begin with.

I'll get off my high horse now but please try to have some reasonable thought process on what you write because you both are probably decent people but are coming across as morons to those of us reading your comments and I am sure you don't want that kind of impression.

The only thing that peed me off about the Collie is the five-cylinder engine, which sounds good - like half a V10 or something, but I wished it had a six-cylinder, like the TrailBlazer - not like the Silverado, gosh no! It'd be cool if they can slide the S10 under the Colorado - compact and midsize, like Cruze and Malibu.

Hopefully the same people who killed the electric car (and truck) won't kill the momentum that the industry has regained.

This is the summer to remind everyone that $5 gas and pathetic gas mileage is strangling us and our economy.

I had an S-10 like that for about a year in college. It was a handmedown from my uncle to my dad and then to me. It was the only Chevy truck I've ever owned. Actually the only Chevy at all. 4 cylinder and a manual. The thing had no power at all but I never did have to fix anything on it. Not once did I even change the oil. I just added a little every few months if I saw it was low. Chevy should never have killed the S-10. That truck had a huge loyal following. They could have built off the momentum of 2 rather successful generations. Instead, in typical GM fashion, they changed the name and replaced it with one ugly Isuzu. I swear those guys are braindead when it comes to their trucks. It will take a miracle for Chevrolet to undo the damage they've done to their truckline over the last 10-15 years. Heck, with their HD's it's been over 20. This new Thai Colorado is just plain ugly. Even if it was electrified like the Volt and got great mileage numbers, I don't think it will be a big hit. They need to give that thing a major facelift for American tastes (and don't make it look like this hideous Silverado). Go back to calling it the S-10. And Ford needs to get their butt in gear and bring that Ranger over here.

Mhowarth,

A sailboat runs( is on) water and is powered by wind. It doesnt run on wind and water. Your beginning arguement is entirely inaccurate.
Heres where i will argue with you...

I may not have all the mathematical calculations but certain assumptions need to be made to present an arguement. Your smart according to your equations but you are blinded by the short term costs. Yes they seem feasible, but at what price will they be in the future and will they still exist?
You leave many daggering questions for someone with quantitative evidence. Your flaws are as evident as my arguement.

Lithium batteries are great but theyre expensive and need to replaced as much as cars. Explain to me how replacing the $8,000 battery every 5 to 7 years makes sense? Explain to me why for the same size and mileage, i can buy a focus with the XFE package for twenty thousand less than a prius or civic hybrid and get similiar results. Your all for alternative choices but none of your arguements have any appeal.

Why not just use gasoline until it runs out because none of the alternative sources can meet the supply or demand?

To end again, alternative sources( diesel, electric, hybrid, e85, propane, hydrogen, solar panel, windmill, hydroelectric) are a waste of time and money.

Allistar,

I still contend that a sailboat needs both air and water to function. We don't use sail cars for some obvious reasons of the unreliability of wind and inability to control it (it does make for a fun toy out in the desert or in skiing though)

Lithium batteries ARE pretty spendy right now but that is an will be changing although they'll never be "dirt cheap." They don't need replaced every 5-7 years it is every 350-500k miles at which point virtually every car made is parted out and in a junkyard to be recycled and he battery really won't be any different other than they are more reliable than a typical motor because they are solid state and don't have a few hundred or thousand moving parts to wear out like a regular ICE. You trade some upfront costs for less ongoing maintenance.

You cannot buy a Focus SFE for $20k less than a $24k Prius. If Ford is selling them for $4k a piece I'll gladly take 2 or 3. comparing MSRP to MSRP for a base model of each (but with the SFE for maximum economy on the Focus) we are at $20,030 (the Ford SFE package is only on the sedan but the 5-door hatch which is the same overall idea to the Prius is more expensive by $1800. If we add this to the $20,030 we hit $21,830) versus $24,980 for the Prius (I added the premium paint to both cars for no other reason than mine has premium paint and it is a typical option)

the difference is $3150 for the Prius that, yes will take a number of years to fully repay but based on 16k miles a year the Prius saves me about 150 gallons of gas and $570 a year (based on $3.80 per gallon) so the payback is about 5 and a half years using straight dollars. I know this won't work cost effectively for everyone in every case but to say that they are not affordable or don't make sense is bogus. I also have 10k mile oil changes so I figure the running costs are a smidgen less but not really impactful overall. But for me I keep vehicles about 7 years so the cost difference is null for me even factoring the time value of money and assuming no price increases for fuel. Plus I personally don't mind paying a little more if I pollute less. For me and 3 million other people the Prius has been a really good alternative that works.

I assume we likely will use most all of the oil in the Earth, the problem is that last 25% or so is going to be EXTREMELY expensive to the point that everything else will be so much cheaper that our free-market economy will have switched over to something else.

Most of those alternative sources you list already work quite well but not all. Diesel certainly does and it is very handy that algae can produce an enormous amount of it without ever needing to drill anything from the ground. Most of the R&D and developmental test plants aren't up to the theoretical limits of 5000 gallons per acre of land but each year they are getting much more efficient. I doubt this alone will replace our oil use but it will most likely place a big dent in a lot of it, especially in the transportation of goods where most of our oil goes anyway.

Electric and hybrid stuff I have already discussed, e85 based on corn sucks but there are some other ethanol sources that are at least a good as oil and will probably get a little better but probably not nearly as effective as the algae diesel will be.

Propane will remain a niche market although natural gas will likely become more prevalent, hydrogen right now is bunk as you have stated.

We need to be able to get the hydrogen from splitting water. A few research labs and major universities are working on this but it is still a ways out (always seems to be) but transport and storage of this is not really practical besides it being reactive with air. It might be something in 40-50 years when oil is in that $500 per barrel range though.

Solar is working in select markets with higher electricity rates and the costs are dropping and capacity increasing each year. It doesn't yet make economic sense for me in Boise due to our very low power rates but probably within 10 years it will make a lot of sense.

Wind and hydroelectric work very well here and have helped to keep our power costs very low. I know that dams have their own problems on the environment but ours here are pretty modest for the most part and allow us to store enough water for the 600k people who live here. Hydro power has been around for 100 years and isn't going anywhere since it has proven to be a damn good solution. Our geothermal plants are coming online and produce base load power but they too are probably 10 years away from being cost competitive in our area but they work in California and other markets.

Other things that are working well and already for sale are the fuel cell like power generators of Bloom Energy (just Google bloombox since I likely can't post another company's website here). It is essentially a solid state electricity generator using natural gas but using it significantly more efficiently than burning it to heat water to turn a turbine and your local power plant. They are way too big for transportation use now but another few generations and possibly (I am not betting on it but expect to see a lot of businesses using them for their buildings)

I am a forward thinking person but I am not the one out in left field here.

@nhowarth-Thanks for the refreshing discussion. Unlike a lot of the readers who think there is no end to our energy-"drill baby drill". The idea of unlimited resources has faded into the sunset. We need to explore all options and what can appear to be an obstacle can become an opportunity. The battery technology will become better but that is not the only solution. We need to explore all energy options along with conservation of our resources. Thanks again for the insightful comments.



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