Who Killed the Electric Car?

In 1990, auto pollution rose to crisis levels in California. At about the same time General Motors announced its electric car prototype and that state’s Zero Emission Mandate is enacted, requiring no less than 10% of all new vehicles to be emission-free by 2003. The result was the EV1, GM’s fast, no-pollution, low-maintenance electric car that appeared on the scene in 1996. But, five short years later, every one of the 800 produced electric vehicles was put to the crusher. Why? That’s the question that first-time documaker Chris Paine wants the answer to in “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

Laura's Review: DNS


Robin's Review: B+

Helmer Paine brings to the forefront, early on, celebrities who where among the chosen few to drive and love the E V1. Mel Gibson and actor Peter Horton extol their vehicles’ advanced technology and the pleasure it is to drive. Stand up comic icon Phyllis Diller talks about a time, prior to 1920, when there were more electric than gas driven cars on the roads. Tom Hanks, Ed Begley Jr. and Mary Tyler Moore are among those who question the demise of the EV1 and other automakers’ electric car programs after just a few short years of success. Many of those privileged to experience the EV1 tell of their love for the groundbreaking vehicle. Paine and company trots out the suspects in this murder mystery one by one: the battery companies, the big oil guys, car manufacturers, the government, the hydrogen fuel initiative, the California Air Resources Board, and the consumer. Battery manufacturer Stanford R. Ovshinsky’s Ovonics Company, developer of the more powerful, longer lasting nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), is the only one found not guilty. The evidence Paine stacks against the rest of these usual suspects is daunting in its complicity in deceiving and depriving the public of any efficient, quiet, non-polluting car at a reasonable price. When the EV1 first arrived, its lead acid batteries were heavy and could only power the vehicle for 60 to 80 miles per charge. This wouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of drivers, who average just 29 miles per day, but the margin was too narrow for successful marketing. Then, Ovonics broke new technological ground with the NiMH battery, increasing the EV1’s range-per-charge to over 120 miles, putting it in a more appealing realm for the potential buyers. This breakthrough in power capacity and the California Zero Emission Mandate should have made the remarkable little car a household name. Instead, they were all turned into scrap. Who Killed the Electric Car?” effectively builds the case of conspiracy and collusion between the oil companies, automakers and government to destroy the technology that could have made a huge difference, today, in smog levels and air quality. Both of which, the documakers says, contribute to respiratory problems and, even, cancer. So, why did the electric car get murdered? It’s kind of obvious from the start but the film that successfully and interestingly goes on to make its point to prove the foregone conclusion you’re bound to have by the time the credits roll. The main feeling I had after seeing “Who Killed the Electric Car?” was one of lament. Lament for the loss of truly meaningful technology; lament for the deception played on the public; and, lament for the environment. Another question that is, sadly, also answered: WHAT killed the electric car? The answer is, simply, greed.