By MARK HAWKINS, Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — In the late 1980s, the head of the electric vehicle industry and a former vice president of General Motors made a bet with a big investor: if a mass market electric car were to take off, it would make Walmart a lot of money.
In an interview, John C. Stokes, former president and chief executive officer of General Electric, said he had a secret weapon in his sights: a $100,000, five-year, $2 million contract with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for an initial fleet of 200 electric cars.
It was a bet, Stokes said, that would pay off big.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Stokes told The Associated Press on Tuesday, adding that the contract was the biggest contract he had ever signed.
“We had a deal to sell 500,000 electric vehicles and I was going to give it to Wal-mart for a reason.
We didn’t want to be in the middle of a bidding war with other automakers.”
Stokes was chief executive from 1989 to 1994 and then served as chairman and chief operating officer of GE from 1997 to 2000.
The company bought Tesla Motors Inc. from Amoco in 2009.
Wal-Mac was a big beneficiary of the deal.
The contract, which had expired in 2014, was worth about $20 million at the time, according to documents reviewed by the AP.
“The goal was to build a mass-market electric vehicle,” Stooks said.
“But we also needed to get a product that would be affordable to the average consumer.”
That was the thinking behind the contract, with an emphasis on making the cars affordable for the masses.
A lot of people didn’t understand the cost of electric vehicles.
They had been told electric cars were cheap to build, but there were big problems with how those vehicles were built.
And there was an inherent risk of electric-car owners losing their jobs because of it.
So the goal was: If we could build a good electric vehicle, we’d make a lot more money.
“This contract was a huge win for Wal- Mart and a big win for the future,” said Bob Jankowski, who founded EViD — the Electric Vehicle Industry Development Initiative.
The plan was to have 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2020.
“You could argue that that was the perfect opportunity to put our hand on the gas pedal,” Jankowski said.
WalMart was going for a big bet.
Its sales were growing rapidly, and it was seeing a boom in other segments like grocery and convenience stores.
But Wal-Marts customers weren’t the only ones who were intrigued by electric cars and the promise of cheaper fuel prices.
“When I started out, I was looking for an electric car,” said Mark K. Johnson, an employee at Wal-Kampong, a retail store in South Korea, who drove an electric SUV in college.
“Now I drive an electric one and I don’t have to drive an expensive car.
And I’ve got to get around a lot.”
Wal-Meisters popularity didn’t stop there.
The first electric vehicles were sold to people like Johnson and his wife, and they drove around for the first time.
They loved the feel of the vehicle and how the battery compartment was hidden under the seat.
But the idea that a mass consumer market would take off would be a tall order.
“I think we need to keep up with the world,” Johnson said.
In the early 2000s, a big breakthrough occurred when Ford Motor Co. and GM entered the electric-vehicle business.
The two companies began to sell electric vehicles that could travel longer distances on electric power and could be driven with a steering wheel.
Walmart, however, was the first to offer electric cars at its stores.
That was in the early days of its network, but it quickly became the dominant player in the market.
Today, Walmart has more than 5 million electric vehicles on its road.
And as sales grow, so does the price.
In 2020, electric-motor sales hit $5 billion, a figure that could surpass $7 billion this year.
Walmans chief financial officer, Greg Miller, has said the company expects sales to reach $10 billion by 2025.
A big step in the right direction, but some analysts are skeptical.
The electric-mobility industry is so small, they say, that it would take a big, powerful car like the Chevy Bolt to make it a success.
“They need a bigger battery pack,” said Richard B. Evans, a professor of management at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Evans said it would be nearly impossible to build more than a dozen million cars per year.
That would require a large fleet of electric SUVs and pickup trucks, and that would require huge investments. The