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Who Killed the Electric Car?: Wikis

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Who Killed the Electric Car?

DVD cover
Directed by Chris Paine
Produced by Jessie Deeter
Written by Chris Paine
Starring Tom Hanks (from a recording)
Mel Gibson
Chelsea Sexton
Ralph Nader
Joseph J. Romm
Phyllis Diller
Narrated by Martin Sheen
Music by Michael Brook
Cinematography Thaddeus Wadleigh
Editing by Michael Kovalenko
Chris A. Peterson
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release date(s) Sundance Film Festival
January 23, 2006
United States
June 28, 2006
United Kingdom
August 4, 2006
Australia
November 2, 2006
Running time 92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Gross revenue $1,764,304 (worldwide)[1]

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 early 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.

During an interview with CBS News, director Chris Paine announced that he would be making a sequel: Who Saved the Electric Car?,[2] later renamed Revenge of the Electric Car.

Contents

Topics addressed

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 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.

Interviews

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.

Production

The film was written and directed by Chris Paine, and produced by Jessie Deeter, and executive produced by Tavin Marin Titus, Richard D. Titus of Plinyminor and Dean Devlin, Kearie Peak, Mark Roskin, and Rachel Olshan of Electric Entertainment. The documentary was featured at the Sundance, San Francisco, Tribeca, Los Angeles, Berlin, Deauville, and Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festivals and was released in theaters worldwide in June 2006. The film features a score composed by Michael Brook and also features music by Joe Walsh, DJ Harry and Meeky Rosie. Jeff Steele, Kathy Weiss, Natalie Artin and Alex Gibney were also part of the producing team.

The suspects

The later portion of the film is organized around the following hypothesized culprits in the downfall of the electric car:

US consumers
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.
Batteries
Limited range (60 - 70 miles) and reliability in the first EV1s to ship, but better (110 - 160 miles) later. Research says the average driving distance of Americans in a day is 30 miles or less and that 90% of Americans could use electric cars in their daily commute. The film also showed that the company who had supplied batteries for EV1 had been suppressed from announcing the improved batteries that can double the range of EV1, and General Motors had sold the supplier's majority control share to an oil company. Towards the end of the film, an engineer explains that, as of the interview, lithium ion batteries, the same technology available in laptops, would have allowed the EV1 to be upgraded to a range of 300 miles per charge.
Oil companies
Fearful of losing business to a competing technology, they supported efforts to kill the ZEV mandate. They also bought patents to prevent modern NiMH batteries from being used in US electric cars. The film also used the crash of oil prices in 1980s as an example of non-US governments and oil companies trying to keep customers from moving towards independence from oil.
Car companies
The film notes that GM engaged in negative marketing of the EV1, including customer surveys which emphasized drawbacks to electronic vehicle technology which were not present in the EV1[3]. CARB officials were quoted claiming that they removed their zero emission vehicle quotas in part because they gave weight to such surveys purportedly showing no demand existing for the EV1s. Other charges included, sabotaging their own product program, failure to produce cars to meet existing demand, unusual business practices with regards to leasing versus sales. The film showed an explanation that electric cars needed fewer expensive repairs, so the car dealers would not make 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. In addition of EV1, the film also showed Toyota RAV4 EV, Honda EV Plus were being cancelled by their respective car companies, with the crushing of Honda EV Plus gained attention only after a PBS interview. On the other hand, the film claimed Japanese government supported the production of Toyota Prius as a response to the American EV1 program.
The filmmakers suggested that GM did not immediately channel its technological progress with the EV1 into other projects following its cancellation, instead letting the technology languish while focusing on more immediately profitable enterprises such as traditional SUVs. In one interview, the film mentioned that only by government legislation, automakers began to introduce important safety and emissions innovations including seat belts, airbags and catalytic converters.
Though GM cited cost as a deterrent to continuing with the EV1, the film interviewed critics contending that the cost of batteries and electric vehicles would have been reduced significantly if mass production began, due to economies of scale.
US Government
The US 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 film backs up the claim that hydrogen vehicles are a mere distraction by stating that "A fuel cell car powered by hydrogen made with electricity uses 3 to 4 times more energy than a car powered by batteries" and by interviewing the author of The Hype About Hydrogen, who lists 5 problems he sees with hydrogen vehicles (these are his paraphrased claims, along with exact quotations):
  1. Current fuel cell cars cost an average of $1,000,000. This cost, in his words, "has gotta drop."
  2. Current materials cannot store enough hydrogen in a reasonable space to "give you the range people want."
  3. Hydrogen fuel is "wildly expensive." In his words "even hydrogen from dirty fossil fuels is two or three times more expensive than gasoline."
  4. The need for an entire new fueling infrastructure. He claims "someone's gonna have to build at least ten or twenty thousand hydrogen fueling stations, before anybody is going to be interested."
  5. Competing technologies will improve over time as well. "You have to hope and pray that the competitors in the marketplace don't get any better. Because right now the best car in the marketplace just got a lot better, the hybrid vehicle..."

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."

He submits it is "good news for electric car enthusiasts" that electric vehicle technology since the EV1 was still being used in two-mode hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicle programs.

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."

Reception

Metacritic gives it a 70, indicating generally favorable reviews.[4]

With brief quotes.

"It's a story Mr. Paine tells with bite. In 1996 a Los Angeles newspaper reported that 'the air board grew doubtful about the willingness of consumers to accept the cars, which carry steep price tags and have a limited travel range.' Mr. Paine pushes beyond this ostensibly disinterested report, suggesting that one reason the board might have grown doubtful was because its chairman at the time, Alan C. Lloyd, had joined the California Fuel Cell Partnership."
The point of Alan Lloyd's conflict of interest is made in the film.
"Boasting a particularly articulate and colorful bunch of noncelebrity talking heads, including former Jimmy Carter energy adviser S. David Freeman and Bill Reinert, the straight-shooting national manager of advanced technologies for Toyota who doesn't exactly sing the praises of the much-touted hydrogen fuel cell, the lively film maintains its challenging pace."
"Like most documentaries, 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' works best when it sticks to the facts. Showing us the details about the California Air Resources Board caving in to the automakers and repealing their 1990 Zero Emissions Mandate, for example, is much more effective than coverage of some goofy mock funeral for the EV1 with Ed Begley Jr. providing the eulogy."
"As most of the lazy media, prodded by the shameless oil men in the White House, spin their wheels over false 'solutions' like hybrids and biodiesel and hydrogen and ethanol and ANWAR, Korthof and his all-electric army continue to boost EV technology."
It's not really a review of the film, but previews it, and includes an interview with EV activist Doug Korthof who says:
"We don't deserve the catastrophe in Iraq, and the two madmen arguing over oil supply lines seem intent on martyrdom for Iraq in a widening war. With EV, we need not get involved in seizing and defending the oil supplies of the Mideast; nor need we maintain fleets, bomb and incarcerate people we can't stand, give foreign aid to oily dictators, and so on. It's not anything to laugh about."

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=whokilledtheelectriccar.htm. Retrieved September 8, 2009. 
  2. ^ David Pogue (2007-09-16). "Could The Electric Car Save Us?". CBSNews. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/06/sunday/main3239838.shtml. Retrieved 2008-05-21. "Chris Paine is excited; in fact, he's making a sequel to his movie" 
  3. ^ Welch, David (August 14, 2000). "The Eco-Cars" (in English). BusinessWeek. http://www.businessweek.com/archives/2000/b3694130.arc.htm. Retrieved March 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ MetaCritic review

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