Who Killed the Electric Car? is a 2006 documentary film that explores the birth, limited commercialization, and subsequent death of the battery electric vehicle in the United States, specifically the General Motors EV1 of the 1990s. The film explores the roles of automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the US 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
The film deals with the history of the electric car, its development and commercialization, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board passed the ZEV mandate in 1990, as well as 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.
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 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 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 explores the future of automobile technologies including a deeply critical look at hydrogen vehicles and an upbeat discussion of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technologies
The film features interviews with celebrities who drove the electric car, such as Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Alexandra Paul, Peter Horton, Phyllis Diller, and Ed Begley, Jr., a bi-partisan selection of prominent political figures including Ralph Nader, Frank Gaffney, Alan Lloyd, Jim Boyd, Alan Lowenthal, and ex-CIA head James Woolsey, as well as news footage from the development, launch and marketing of EV's.
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, Alan Cocconi and Stan and Iris 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 last half hour of the movie is organized around the following hypothesized culprits in the downfall of the electric car:
Lots of ambivalence to new technology, unwillingness to compromise on decreased range and increased cost for improvements to air quality and reduction of dependence on foreign oil. Although these allegations are made about consumers by industry reps in the film, perhaps explaining the film's "guilty" verdict, the actual consumers interviewed in the film were either unaware an electric car was available, or dismayed that they could no longer obtain one.
Limited range (60-70 miles) and reliability in the first EV-1s to ship, but better (110 - 160 miles) later. Towards the end of the film, an engineer explains that, as of the interview, the same technology available in laptop batteries would have allowed the EV-1 to be upgraded to a range of 300 miles per charge.
Fearful of losing business to a competing technology, they supported efforts to kill the ZEV mandate. They also bought patents to prevent modern batteries from being used in US electric cars.
Negative marketing, sabotaging their own product program, failure to produce cars to meet existing demand, unusual business practices with regards to leasing versus sales. The film only explains this behavior once, saying that electric cars needed fewer expensive repairs and would hence not make the car companies as much money over the long term as gasoline-powered cars. The film also describes the history of automaker efforts to destroy competing technologies, such as their destruction through front companies of public transit systems in the United States in the early 20th century. It also, in one interview, mentions that automakers introduced important safety and emissions innovations including seat belts, airbags and catalytic converters only when forced by government legislation.
The federal government joined in the auto industry suit against California, has failed to act in the public interest to limit pollution and require increased fuel economy, has promoted the purchase of vehicles with poor fuel efficiency through preferential tax breaks, and has redirected alternative fuel research from electric towards hydrogen.
California Air Resources Board
The CARB, headed by Alan Lloyd, caved to industry pressure and repealed the ZEV mandate. Lloyd was given the directorship of the new fuel cell institute, creating an inherent conflict of interest. Footage shot in the meetings showed how he shut down the ZEV proponents while giving the car makers all the time they wanted to make their points.
Hydrogen fuel cell
The hydrogen fuel cell was presented by the film as an alternative that distracts attention from the real and immediate potential of electric vehicles to an unlikely future possibility embraced by automakers, oil companies and a pro-business administration in order to buy time and profits for the status quo.
The movie's conclusions:
Consumers — Guilty
Batteries — Not Guilty
Oil companies — Guilty
Car companies — Guilty
Government — Guilty
California Air Resources Board — Guilty
Hydrogen fuel cell — Guilty
Has anyone seen this? I've seen the preview but have not had the chance to watch it as yet so I would be interested to hear some feedback.