Sony Pictures Classics presents Who Killed the Electric Car? Rated PG (for brief mild language). Running time: 92 minutes.
Who Killed the Electric Car? arrives hard on the heels of that other hot topic documentary, Al Gore’s discourse on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. It is the two in the one-two punch providing awareness as its subject – the electric car – comes at a time when most Americans are peeved about the price of gasoline.
The electric car was a reality, albeit for a short while. I remember in the late 1990s when Tom Hanks was making the talk show rounds promoting his latest project. While speaking with David Letterman he talked about his electric car. Of course, Hanks acknowledged that it ran on electricity, not gas, and only went as far as 60 miles when fully charged. Fine by him, as driving mostly consisted of getting to the movie set and back home.
These sporty, eco-friendly two-seaters were developed in compliance with California’s zero-emissions law. Passed in 1998, the law required that a percentage of all new vehicles produce no exhaust. Such a mandate forced auto manufacturers to make EV (electric vehicle) models until the California Air Resources Board, yielding to legal pressure from the industry, altered the law. The consequence: the electric car was unplugged for good.
Even stranger, all electric cars were taken from their owners. General Motors leased their EV1s rather than sell them to customers. So when the large transport trucks came to take the cars, the drivers had no claim.
Through investigative work, that involved tailing the trucks to their final destination, director Chris Paine and a number of vocal EV supporters went to great lengths to spread the gospel of electric cars. This includes holding a mock funeral, in which former owners morn and give eulogies about their beloved battery-powered car.
Such a production is not nearly as convincing as a parking lot housing 78 EV1s, or the aerial shots taken of big machines crushing almost-like-new electric cars; demolished at the behest of GM.
Who Killed the Electric Car? is probably less vindictive than the Inventor of the Internet’s diatribe about cataclysmic consequences as a result of increasing temperatures. Paine’s aim is to show how this technological innovation could have lowered our dependence of foreign oil and curtailed fuel emissions.
He employs all the usual documentary tricks, narration (by Martin Sheen), archival footage (including electric cars that date as far back as the 1930’s), talking heads (entertainers like Peter Horton and Mel Gibson; consumer advocate Ralph Nader) and imagery that fuels debate – pun intended.
And just who is the killer? Usual suspects proliferate this whodunit documentary, as Paine identifies Big Oil, the auto industry, lackluster marketing, government intrusiveness, and a big push behind hydrogen-fuel-cell research. None of these culprits have been punished, and probably won’t. Oh, the horror to environmentalists around the world.
We are given these different reasons, but what about effects? The biggest casualty was the demise of the EV1. It died but electric technology lives on in the development of hybrids. Other victims were those who developed the EV for their respective companies only to be fired, uh, I mean find better employment elsewhere.
An unsuspecting populace is somewhere in the gray area between cause and effect. Most had no idea about General Motors’ EV1. Ads appeared in magazines like Scientific American, but such a publication reaches too few to warrant interest. The auto industry wanted this project to fail; if not, commercials would have run during prime-time television and sporting events. Though we, being the consumers we are, may have not embraced the EV1.
Gas prices were at a reasonable price, $1.20 per gallon or thereabouts, in the 1990s. Automobiles got at least 20 miles to a gallon. Yet, with electric cars there is no internal combustion engine. Hence, no need for oil filters or cartons of oil. Nope, every 5,000 miles just change the tires and add washer fluid. It’s probably a little more complicated than that, though a testimonial like this would make many rethink the EV.
As gas prices steadily increase, the oil supply lessens. We may have to wait until 2020 until hydrogen-powered vehicles (HV) become an alternative means of transportation. Until that day occurs, prospective buyers can purchase test models right now for the low, low price of $1,000,000.
Hmm, electric cars are looking pretty good right about now.