Who Killed the Electric Car

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I rented this documentary tonight - along with An Inconvenient Truth it was one of the few movies I've been very excited about seeing this year. While the message of the movie is important, unfortunately I was disappointed.

The movie focuses on GM's EV1, essentially the first marketable electric car created by a major automotive manufacturer in 100 years (one of the first cars ever created was the electric car). The vehicles, from what I have learned, are great for the environment, are economical to run, drive as fast and handle as well as gas powered vehicles, and people who have driven them LOVE them. Not just love but LOVE.

There were a number of celebrity drivers of the EV1's. Mel Gibson, Ed Begley Jr., Alexandra Paul, Peter Horton, and Tom Hanks who even went on Lettermen to plead the case of the electric car. The cars, as well as Toyota's Rav 4 EV's, were eventually repossessed for lack of a better word. ALL OF THEM. From the sounds of it, the vehicles were leased not purchased and GM refused to allow customers to buy them outright or to renew their leases. The majority of the cars were then crushed, shredded or parked on lots.

I won't get into all the details, I'll leave that up to you to watch the dvd yourself or do your own research into electric vehicles. There's some interesting details around the creation and subsequent destruction of California's Zero Emissions mandate, which was begun at the same time as the introduction of the electric car. I also found it intriguing that around the same time as most major auto companies were driving these cars to extinction (all puns intentional), the Bush government was allocating millions of dollars towards this wonderful new technology known as "Hydrogen Cell" cars (or something like that). Funny isn't it, that electric cars ran simply on battery power while hydrogen cell or "hybrid" cars also burn fossil fuels.

There is only one memory that I have of the electric car. It involved Ed Begley Jr. and how much he was ridiculed by many. Perhaps ridiculed is too harsh a word. However, he was certainly the butt of many jokes. I'm sure that his career has suffered somewhat because of it. He was considered "alternative" when it wasn't considered cool to be so. There are no recollections of advertisements, news reports, etc. extolling the virtues of the electric car at that time. Why? Watch the movie - it involves the Zero Emissions mandate, profits, and ties to big oil.

Essentially the answer to the question "Who Killed the Electric Car" is a complex one. It's the oil companies who would stand to lose billions. The electric car didn't require oil changes a couple of times a year, this means no oil filters, no gas, or any of the other hundreds of small "accessories" associated with fossil fuel based cars. Big Oil has strong, long standing ties to government, especially the Bushes. Who was in power at the time the EV1 hit the market? Clinton. Who was there when it was removed from the road? Baby Bush. Surprise? Not really. We've also seen the introduction of larger, less fuel efficient SUV's during Bush's time in office. Can you say Hummer boys and girls? I knew you could. Oh...wait! Who uses the Hummer other than wannabe gangsters who want to feel "badder" than they really are? Could it be... the US ARMY? Hmm. Interesting. And where are the majority of US troops deployed at the moment (and have been for the last few years)? I know I know! The MidEast. What comes from countries in that region? Oil, perhaps? Darn right.

Sure the auto companies didn't promote their cars as well as they should have and this is a major reason why most people didn't know much about their existence during the 90s. But they had good reason not to. Have you ever noticed when you've gone to the hardware/DIY store to get a new fan belt, wiper blade, spark plugs, air/oil filter that you have to consult the dogearred book hanging on a chain so you make sure you buy the right product for the make/model/year of your car? God forbid you buy the wrong one...they tell us it won't work or fit. The reason they do this? The auto companies don't just make cars. They make the replacement parts. They make the spark plugs, the filters, the batteries, the wipers, fan belts, etc that you will inevitably have to buy either at the store or through your mechanic when your car breaks down or needs it's usual tune-up. If, like the EV1, your car no longer requires these additional purchases, the auto companies are losing out. Multiply that by even 1% of the car owners out there and the auto companies stand to lose millions in profits each year. Now why would they want to do that?

You're probably thinking to yourself "didn't she say she was disappointed?". Yes, I did. And I was. Not with the what the filmmakers were trying to "sell" me or the larger message about our environment (not to mention the freedom to choose). It's an important issue and needs to be heard. The government needs to know that the car buyers of the world want options - environmentally conscious, cost efficient options. Unlike the slickly produced An Inconvenient Truth, this documentary lacks the pizzazz necessary to generate the buzz it needs. There was little hype, little promotion. It was mentioned really only in passing, tacked onto the end of discussions about Al Gore's film. The film had a lot of potential but it failed, not in substance but in delivery. There were no flashy graphics, gut wrenching visuals, or scarry scenarios for our future. I will admit that it was a tad bit emotional watching the die-hard former EV1 drivers getting arrested while the last of the cars were marched to their death but it did not instill in me the same feelings of impending disaster that Truth did. Whereas Gore was full of passion about the subject, Martin Sheen's narration lacked any passion whatsoever. I found him monotonous and slightly snooze worthy. However, still worth giving it a look.

6 comments:

Gardenia said...

Oh, yeh, oil and dirty stuff runs our economy - and our wars I believe. I read somewhere about baby Bushies' grandpa being involved with the Nazi's - some sort of energy related trade during WWII and that's supposedly where the dynasty's $ came from. Do you know anything about that?

Red said...

I hadn't heard about this film before, but I might add it to our list. I hear you when you say that some of these documentary films are disappointing.

For example... Dollface, I noticed that The Corporation is on your queue, and that is a good film. Not great, because again, the narration is very, very, VERY on the dull side. But the content of the film is astonishing, and it will make you want to go online and find out more information about the many ways in which we, the ordinaty people, get screwed. As a good counterbalance to The Corporation, I would recommend The Yes Men, which is a much funnier take on the absurdity of corporate life.

Great post, Karen.

Tanya said...

Or, if you believe David Icke, this is all part of the green lizard alien's plot.

* (asterisk) said...

Just watched this. Liked the story and message a lot, but it would have benefited from being a 60-minute exposé rather than a 90-min doc. I want an electric car now.

Patrick Roberts said...

Watched "Who Killed the Electric Car" recently (great documentary), then i heard that GM and Tesla are making another run at the electric car (yay for progress!) hopefully development of this technology can go on unhindered by the corporations that depend on oil consumption.

Johnny Yen said...

Here in the United States, GM and Chrysler bought up all the "Interurbans," electric trains that ran between thousands of cities and towsn-- and shut them down so that they could sell the same municipalities fossil-fueled buses. This is mentioned in the book "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of America," by Kenneth T. Jackson (if he sounds familiar, he's the guy who wrote the "Don't Know Much About History" series of books).

It appears that some companies are committed to developing the electric car, particularly now that Lithium Ion batteries are around-- they're a huge jump in battery technology.

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