Chevrolet S10 Electric

Car of the Day #33: 1997 Chevrolet S10 Electric

Chevrolet S10 Electric
• GM via The Drive

A few days ago, I made a throwaway remark: “I’ve written about hundreds of electric cars at this point, and the results are most often crap…”

This was in direct reference to the Sears XDH-1, but the example could have been any number of obsolete electric cars.

Not to make yet another GM product a sacrificial lamb in order to prove a point — Ford also did a hopeless electric Ranger, ditto the electric versions of Chrysler minivans in the mid to late ’90s — but one beloved Chevrolet S10 EV has been getting enough attention recently to make me worry about all aging EVs.

Over more than a month, The Questionable Garage has turned his S10 Electric into only the fifth known to work [Jeremy Clarkson voice]…in the world.

I can’t say a homebuilt, open-topped battery pack with a top speed of 24 mph and an extremely limited range is a drivable vehicle, but as of a few weeks ago, the truck works. 

Just want to see it in operation? In the second video, skip to 36 minutes in:

To be clear: I’m firmly on the side of tinkerers like The Questionable Garage who want to keep their vehicles working for as long as possible. I also applaud the former GM engineers and S10 Electric owners who (in the video comments) have chimed in with offers of support—service manuals, spare components, and the like.

Conveniently, as an older product of very limited production comprised of outdated technology, GM proper has no obligation to help keep any S10 Electrics running, just as they have no obligation to keep your cool aunt’s 2003 Monte Carlo SS Jeff Gordon Edition’s paint free from oxidation.

I’m coming around to the idea that this is already a massive problem with a shrinking number of solutions.

In auto racing, let me remind you that Formula 1 requires a shared 3rd party ECU supplier for all teams’ engines, in a move to reduce costs and complexity. In Formula e, battery packs are standardized and supplied from one manufacturer, for quality control and performance parity.

As far as EVs sold today, the current landscape is a mish-mash between ECUs, modules, battery systems, and battery cells. There are popular cell sizes, yes, but there’s not yet a range of shared battery cell dimensions that battery packs (and therefore a vehicle’s capability) are built around. There is shared software, sure, but much of it resides in places inaccessible to the public.

Vehicle manufacturers race ahead in some areas, such as battery chemistry, battery packaging, and the immense amount of software to run it all, but neglect the slow stuff: adequate documentation, standardized components, and long-term software support. 

Why is there no open source standard for vehicle batteries and vehicle software?

If I had to guess: because it’s much more profitable to keep that information locked away, considered proprietary until lost forever. 

Here, GM was sooooo close — there were just four trucks left in private hands. Then it could have flambé’d its file cabinets of S10 Electric information…

Now there are five.