Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Infobox Film
name = Who Killed the Electric Car?

caption = DVD Cover
writer = Chris Paine
starring = Tom Hanks(from a recording)
Mel Gibson
Chelsea Sexton
Ralph Nader
Joseph J. Romm
Phyllis Diller
Narrated by Martin Sheen
director = Chris Paine
distributor = Sony Pictures Classics
runtime = 92 min.
language = English
website = http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar/
imdb_id = 0489037
year = 2006

"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, 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?" [cite news|url=http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/06/sunday/main3239838.shtml
title=Could The Electric Car Save Us?
author=David Pogue
quote=Chris Paine is excited; in fact, he's making a sequel to his movie
] , finally called "Revenge of the Electric Car".

Topics addressed

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, Ed Begley, Jr., a bi-partisan selection of prominent 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 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, Alec Brooks, 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 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 last half hour of the movie is organized around the following hypothesized culprits in the downfall of the electric car:

;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 EV-1s 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. 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 EV-1 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.

;Car companies: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.

;Government: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 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)::# Current fuel cell cars cost an average of $1,000,000. This cost, in his words, "has gotta drop.":# Current materials cannot store enough hydrogen in a reasonable space to "give you the range people want.":# Hydrogen fuel is "wildly expensive." In his words "even hydrogen from dirty fossil fuels is two or three times more expensive than gasoline.":# 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.":# 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..."

The verdicts

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


The film has been criticized for some of its suggestions.

From General Motors

General Motors (GM) has responded through a blog post entitled [http://fyi.gmblogs.com/2006/06/who_ignored_the_facts_about_th.html "Who Ignored the Facts About the Electric Car?"] by Dave Barthmuss of their communications department. He does not address the movie directly, since he claims not to have seen it, but tells GM's side of the story, about their big investment before and since the EV1, the limited market in spite of their efforts, and how they maybe could have handled the decommissioning better. A quote:

"Sadly, 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 notes investments in electric vehicle technology since the EV1: two-mode hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicle programs. The filmmakers suggested that GM did not immediately channel its technological progress with the EV1 into these projects, and instead let the technology languish while focusing on more immediately profitable enterprises such as SUVs.

Barthmuss claims that GM is, in fact, bullish on hydrogen:

Although hydrogen fuel cell technology was cast as a pie-in-the-sky technology by the moviemakers, GM is making great progress in fuel cell research and development and is on track to achieving its goal to validate and design a fuel cell propulsion system by 2010 that is competitive with current combustion systems on durability and performance, and that ultimately can be built at scale, affordably.

Critical rebuttal of GM

The movie pointed out that General Motors' customer survey may have served to lower demand. GM called interested customers and emphasized drawbacks to the car that were disputed by EV1 drivers. CARB officials have been quoted claiming that they removed their zero emission vehicle quotas in part because such surveys purported to show that no demand existed for the EV1s. Critics interviewed in the movie contend that the cost of batteries and electric vehicles would have been reduced significantly when mass production began, due to economies of scale.

From Edmunds.com

Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com, a popular auto market web site, wrote his own criticism of the movie, [ [http://blogs.edmunds.com/karl/239 GM's EV1 -- Who Killed Common Sense?] ] contrasting the interpretations in the movie with his own in a rumor/fact format. For example, regarding how GM negatively marketed the car, he said:

:" Rumor: There were 5,000 people who wanted an EV1, but GM wouldn't let them buy it."

:" Fact: There were 5,000 people who expressed interest in an EV1, but when GM called them back and explained that the car cost $299-plus a month to lease, went between 60 and 80 miles on a full charge, and took between 45 minutes and 15 hours to re-charge, very few would commit to leasing one (not too surprising, is it?). The film likes to quote a figure of 29 miles as the average American's daily driving needs, but that is a national figure and the EV1 was only sold in California and Arizona, primarily in Los Angeles. Anyone wanna guess what the average L.A. resident's daily driving need is? I'm betting it's higher than that national average...."


Metacritic gives it a 70 [ [http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/whokilledtheelectriccar?q=who%20killed%20the%20electric%20car MetaCritic review] ] , indicating generally favorable reviews.

With brief quotes.
* [http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=338763 NY Times review of the film] by Manohla Dargis

:"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 one made in the film.
* [http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/reviews/review_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002729006 Hollywood Reporter Review] by Michael Rechtshaffen

:"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."
* [http://www.filmthreat.com/index.php?section=reviews&Id=8463 Film Threat review from the Sundance Film Festival] by Pete Vonder Haar

:"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 EV-1 with Ed Begley Jr. providing the eulogy."
* [http://www.ocweekly.com/web/web/baby-you-can-still-drive-my-electric-car/25134/ Review in OC weekly] by Matt Coker,

:"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 movie, 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."
* [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/who_killed_the_electric_car/ Rottentomatoes.com reviews] list with quotes (approximately 90% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes).
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0489037/externalreviews External review list from The Internet Movie Database]

See also

*Electric vehicle
*Battery electric vehicle
*Future of the car
*Hydrogen vehicle
*Compressed-air car
*Hybrid vehicle
*Plug-in hybrid
*The Hype about Hydrogen, a book by Joseph J. Romm.
*Tribrid vehicle
*Zero-emissions vehicle
*General Motors EV1, the car the film is about.
*List of documentaries


External links

* [http://freepress.org/departments/display/20/2003/343 FreePress.org article (2003)] - Governor Davis Kills the Electric Car, as The Air Resources Board Reclassifies Gasoline Cars as "Clean," by energy expert Paul Fenn (freepress.org, reprinted from http://www.local.org).
* [http://www.starz.com/appmanager/seg/s?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=movie_detail&vid=4220788&eid=-1&section=SCHEDULE Showing in June07 on Starz and Starz OnDemand] – "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
* [http://www.kean.edu/~techtran Stanford Ovshinsky featured speaker at Technology Transfer 2006 Conference] , Union, NJ, November 17, 2006
* [http://EV1.org EV1 website] – Story of the EV1
*" [http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com Who Killed the Electric Car?] " – official movie website
* [http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar/ Sony Classics - Who Killed the Electric Car?] Official Sony Classics interactive website for the DVD release of the movie
* [http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/index.html Now on PBS – "Who Killed the Electric Car?"]
* [http://www.pbs.org/pov/borders/2004/air/air_ev1.html PBS interview of director Chris Paine, including video]
* [http://www.artfilmtalk.com/14-chris-paine/ Art Film Talk #14 Chris Paine] – interview with director Chris Paine (audio)
* [http://www.moviejungle.com/interviews/WKTEC Moviejungle interview with the director and the stars Wally Rippel and Chelsea Sexton]
* [http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony/whokilledtheelectriccar HD, standard definition, and iPod movie trailers]
* [http://news.com.com/1606-2-6067099.html Film Clip on CNet]
* [http://www.comingsoon.net/films.php?id=12796 Coming soon summary and links]
*imdb title|id=0489037|title=Who Killed the Electric Car?
* [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13418559 Article on MSNBC] about the removal of the last remaining operational EV1 from the museum just one week before the movie's opening
* [http://www.myspace.com/whokilledtheelectriccar "Who killed the Electric Car?" at Myspace]
* [http://www.independentfilm.com/festivals/videogalleryfest/who-killed-the-electric-car-chris-paine.shtml Watch: Director Chris Paine interviewed at the Woods Hole Film Festival on independentfilm.com]
* [http://www.pluginamerica.com/ Plug in America] – Advocacy group for more information about supporting electric-powered vehicles
* [http://www.alessandroronchi.net/2007/08/06/terminata-la-traduzione-italiana-di-who-killed-the-electric-car/ Sottotitoli Italiani del Film WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR] – Who Killed The Electric Car's Italian subtitles
* [http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6969567.PN.&OS=PN/6969567&RS=PN/6969567 Chevron/Texaco's patent on the NiMH battery]

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