Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE CAR THAT COULD by Michael Shnayerson

THE CAR THAT COULD

The Inside Story of GM's Revolutionary Electric Vehicle

By Michael Shnayerson

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42105-X
Publisher: Random House

 Allowed complete access to GM's top-secret electric-car project, Shnayerson tells the story of the assorted VPs and engineers as if this were a thriller. Vanity Fair contributing editor Shnayerson (Irwin Shaw, 1989) does a masterful job of presenting a seemingly hopeless situation: building a more energy-efficient mousetrap. Shnayerson's explanations of the technical terms are clear and concise, and his understanding of the machinations of the GM behemoth is remarkable. The book begins with Ken Baker, a GM exec who'd failed at one electric-car project already but was willing to try another. Baker, whose interaction with other managers provides a terrific bird's-eye view of GM, is a sweet, hard-working leader who battles his weight along with the strict hierarchy. Engineer Alan Cocconi, a shy, sardine-popping genius, headed the ``Sunraycer'' team in its quest to build a cleaner, cheaper car and created a teardrop-shaped design so streamlined it was able to cross Australia with the energy equivalent of five gallons of gas. GM head Roger Smith (unwilling star of the film Roger & Me) became enamored with their first prototype, hideously renamed Impact, and previewed it at a 1990 auto show. CARB, the California group that regulates car pollution, took note and immediately raised its emissions standards. Car makers spotted a trend as well; Ford began to test its own electric vehicle, the Ecostar. But industrywide problems with batteries were persistent and absurdly costly--estimates to develop a new type of battery ran as high as $1 billion--and GM itself faced a tumultuous financial situation. Shnayerson's account of what happens next--to big Ken Baker, to the Impact, and to GM-- is fun and beautifully written. Although it's not clear whether the electric car is the real thing, this business adventure story has heroes, a villain or two, and genuine hope for the future. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)