Who Killed the Electric Car? is a 2006 documentary film that explores the creation, limited commercialization, and subsequent destruction of the battery electric vehicle in the United States, specifically the General Motors EV1 of the mid 1990s. The film explores the roles of automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the US government, the Californian government, batteries, hydrogen vehicles, and consumers in limiting the development and adoption of this technology.
It was released on DVD to the home video market on November 14, 2006 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Watch the Movie free: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34KcMQvFpEE
During an interview with CBS News, director Chris Paine announced that he would be making a sequel: Who Saved the Electric Car?, later renamed Revenge of the Electric Car.
The film deals with the history of the electric car, its development, and commercialization. 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 passed the ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate in 1990. Also discussed are the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics, and global warming.
The film details the California Air Resources Board's reversal of the mandate after suits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the George W. Bush administration. It points out that Bush's chief influences, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card, are all former executives and board members of oil and auto companies. The EV1 was eliminated from the GM Line in 1999.
A large part of the film accounts for GM's efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of 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). Several activists, including actress Alexandra Paul, are shown being 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 reasons that the auto and oil industries worked to kill off the electric car. Wally Rippel is shown explaining that the oil companies were afraid of losing out on trillions of dollars in potential profit from their transportation fuel monopoly over the coming decades, while the auto companies were afraid of losses over the next six months of EV production. 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 showed the failed attempts by electric car enthusiasts trying to combat the cancellation of EV1 and the surviving vehicles. Towards the end of the film, a deactivated EV1 car #99 was found in the garage of Petersen Automotive Museum, with former EV sales representative, Chelsea Sexton, invited for a visit.
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 end of the film mentioned the upcoming sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car.
The film features interviews with celebrities who drove the electric car, such as Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Alexandra Paul, Peter Horton, Ed Begley, Jr., a bi-partisan selection of prominent US political figures including Ralph Nader, Frank Gaffney, Alan Lloyd, Jim Boyd, Alan Lowenthal, S. David Freeman, and ex-CIA head James Woolsey, as well as news footage from the development, launch and marketing of EVs.
The film also features interviews with some of the engineers and technicians who led the development of modern electric vehicles and related technologies, such as Wally Rippel, Chelsea Sexton, Alec Brooks, Alan Cocconi and Stan and Iris M. Ovshinsky and other experts, such as Joseph J. Romm (author of Hell and High Water and The Hype about Hydrogen). Romm gives a presentation intended to show that the government's "hydrogen car initiative" is a bad policy choice and a distraction that is delaying the exploitation of more promising technologies, like electric and hybrid cars that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase America's energy security. Also featured in the film are spokesmen for the automakers, such as GM's Dave Barthmuss, a vocal opponent of the film and the EV1, and Bill Reinert from Toyota.
The later portion of the film is organized around the following hypothesized culprits in the downfall of the electric car:
Response from General Motors
General Motors (GM) has responded in a blog post entitled Who Ignored the Facts About the Electric Car? by Dave Barthmuss of their communications department. He claims not to have seen it, but attempts to rebut claims from it, as he understood them. He repeats GM's claims that, "despite the substantial investment of money and the enthusiastic fervor of a relatively small number of EV1 drivers — including the filmmaker — the EV1 proved far from a viable commercial success."
Barthmuss also cites "GM's leadership" in flex-fuel vehicles development, hydrogen fuel cell technology, and their new "active fuel management" system which improving fuel economy, as reasons they feel they are "doing more than any other automaker to address the issues of oil dependence, fuel economy, and emissions from vehicles."
Responding to the film's harsh criticisms for discontinuing the EV1, he outlines GM's reasons for doing so, implying that GM did so because of poor consumer demand despite "significant sums (spent) on marketing and incentives develop a mass market for it," and inadequate support from parts suppliers, which would have made "future repair and safety of the vehicles difficult to nearly impossible." He also expressed that, "no other major automotive manufacturer is producing a pure electric vehicle for use on public roads and highways."
Lastly, Barthmuss personally regretted the way the decision not to sell EV1s was handled, but stated that GM also discontinued it because they would no longer be able to repair it or "guarantee it could be operated safely over the long term."
The film won 2006 Mountain Film (Telluride) Special Jury Prize, Canberra International Film Festival Audience Award, and also nominated for Best Documentary in 2006 Environmental Media Awards, Best Documentary in Writers Guild of America, 2007 Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Documentary Feature.
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