Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car? delves into the short life of the GM EV1 electric car — a fuel-efficient auto that was once all the rage in the mid-1990s and now has fallen by the roadside. How could such a green-friendly vehicle fail to transform lives? Through interviews with government officials, former GM employees and concerned celebs, filmmaker Chris Paine seeks to find out. After California passed a law requiring zero emissions mandate, GM produced EV1 electric cars in the mid-1990s. Those were all-electric cars, as opposed to the partial-electric hybrids being sold today. The film focuses primarily on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease mainly in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed the Zero-emissions vehicle(ZEV) mandate in 1990 which required the seven major automobile suppliers in the United States to offer electric vehicles in order to continue sales of their gasoline powered vehicles in California. The film details the California Air Resources Board’s reversal of the mandate after relentless pressure and suits from automobile manufacturers, continual pressure from the oil industry, orchestrated hype over a future hydrogen car, and finally the George W. Bush administration. Nearly 5000 electric cars were designed and manufactured by GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Nissan, and Chrysler; and then later destroyed or donated to museums and educational institutions. Also discussed are the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, oil dependency, Middle Eastpolitics, and global warming. A portion of the film details GM’s efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no consumer demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and destroy them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed. GM never responded to the EV drivers’ offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed). The film also shows the failed attempts by electric car enthusiasts trying to combat auto industry moves, and save the surviving vehicles. Several activists, including actresses Alexandra Paul and Colette Divine, were arrested in the protest that attempted to block the GM car carriers taking the remaining EV1s off to be crushed. The film explores some of the motives that may have pushed the auto and oil industries to kill off the electric car. Wally Rippel offers, for example, that the oil companies were afraid of losing their monopoly on transportation fuel over the coming decades; while the auto companies feared short term costs for EV development and long term revenue loss because EVs require little maintenance and no tuneups. Others explained the killing differently. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss argued it was lack of consumer interest due to the maximum range of 80–100 miles per charge, and the relatively high price. The film also explores the future of automobile technologies including a deeply critical look at hydrogen vehicles, an upbeat discussion of plug-in hybrids, and examples of other developing EV technologies such as the Tesla Roadster(released on the market two years after the film). The story follows a group of people who were lucky enough to be chosen as test “owners” for General Motors limited production electric car, the EV-1. They fell in love with the fast, quiet cars, and felt that they were on the leading edge of a new wave in automotive technology. But then GM started behaving strangely. Apparently they did not want these cars to succeed. They would not let the drivers buy them, despite strong interest in owning them. Around this time the SUV was gaining ground as one of the most profitable vehicles types ever produced, and gas was still under two dollars a gallon. The story is told through a series of interviews and video footage of actual events as the strange saga unfolded. Evidently the cameras only started rolling when things got weird, and someone felt that there might be a story here. The fact that it took place in LA and that many of the principals were also in the film business didn’t hurt either. Here is a warning: this will not leave you feeling good about certain large corporations, nor will it leave you feeling that energy conservation is an objective that is taken seriously by those industries that are best positioned to promote it. It might leave you angry. Even more, here is a rare glimpse into the mindset of the auto makers. Great documentary in every way. I like the way Chris Paine steps through the possible suspects one-by-one: 1) US Consumers; 2) Battery Technology; 3) Big Oil; 4) Car Companies; 5) US Government; 6) California Air Resources Board; 7) Hydrogen Fuel Cell. Oil lobbyists pounded on the federal government to join the lawsuit against CA to stop their zero emissions mandate. One glaring example (in the film) is the fact that four months before CA’s zero emissions mandate was blocked, Alan Lloyd (Chairman of CA Air Resources Board) was offered and accepted chairmanship of the CA Fuel Cell Partnership. Guess who claims to be pursuing hydrogen fuel cells: oil companies, who know that the technology is miles away from ever being viable. The appearance of developing an alternative fuel source that is clearly inferior in multiple ways to both electric and gasoline merely supports the status quo for oil companies. Their plan is to market their efforts to pursue hydrogen and hope like heck that everyone forgets the alternative that is as viable today as it was over 100 years ago: 100% electric vehicles. Oil companies, car companies, and other companies with interest in the automotive industry having been keeping the electric car down for years. It seems especially relevant that many of these same automobile companies were bailed out by the government. When I went to college, there was a competition called “Formula SAE.” It was a race of Formula 1 cars powered by all electric motors. Our school’s car had over 150hp, and that was 10 years ago. Car companies have the capacity and ability to make all-electric cars that will run just as well or better than gas-powered cars, yet we still don’t have them. I experienced an EV-1 passing me outside Indianapolis — it shot by, silently. And to say that electric-powered cars would not hurt oil companies is ridiculous. Power plants and other non-automotive oil consumers pay a fraction of what we do for oil and gasoline. Oil companies would lose billions, if not trillions of dollars if we switched completely to alternative fuels. And don’t forget all of the other automotive-related companies that would crumble if we switched to electric. Funny that an oil company buys a battery company, then suddenly the research and sale of said batteries ends — hence no more electric cars. Now in 2012 we have a clearer picture of what really happened. It is now established fact that Chevron purchased the NiMH patents from GM and then immediately sued all other auto makers to stop EV production. Today the large NiMH batteries are not permitted for use in automobiles by Cobaysys as subsidiary of Chevron. The patents for NiMH batteries do not expire until 2015. Only some 300 Toyota EVs were sold and are still running today using that battery technology. For now we will all need to accept Lithium Ion batteries until 2015, and just hope that Chevron does not get an extension of those patents. This documentary tells why a great technology gets removed and about the driving force behind it to keep it from happening. In seems like change will only come when certain powers will have no other choice when put on the brink by certain events to accept alternatives. This is an educational movie that’ll probably answer all of the questions that consumers were never quite clear on about how an electric car works, why they were so rare and what slowed down the process of making them popular more than those unnecessary hummers. The all-electric Nissan Leaf will start a trend of developing battery technology with ever-increasing storage capacity, ease of charging, etc. As range gets greater more and more people will adopt electric vehicles, economy of greater scale will make the parts cheaper, and so on, propelling electric cars into the mainstream. Auto and truck companies sell what people want to buy, just like Apple sells iPads and iPhones. Demand and supply, in that order. I feel like consumers are blamed a little too harshly in the film. While there will always be a few Hummer drivers, I know many Americans who would prefer to live a little more like Europeans with more thrifty energy usage (among the seemingly endless list of things that Europeans are more forward-thinking about). Great movie that made me want to ask GM to bring back the EV1. Seems like the EV1 was a little ahead of its time, but a great product none-the-less. It has a sad ending, but you see what is happening to America because of the greed of people. This movie makes me hate corporations and government more than anything I’ve seen. So sad. Exposes the direction the USA has gone in turning everything over to the corporations. When will we realize that capitalism must have limits. It has no heart, conscience, etc. Things could be so much better if the self-interested corporations would start thinking in terms of what’s good for the planet and the 99%. A great documentary about some really dedicated folks who keep the dream alive. I truly admire the people that were battling the ones who were determined to destroy the electric car. This really is a must-see in order to further understand the power and mindset of the oil and auto industries. Great movie! Very enlightening. I wish everyone in the world would see this one. A great documentary that will open your eyes. Definitely recommended. Documentary 2006 PG 91 minutes.

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