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Review:Who Killed the Electric Car?

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Producer: Dean Devlin
Electric Entertainment

Review by Mary-Sue Haliburton
Pure Energy Systems News
Sept. 13, 2006


California's Forward-Looking Environmental Legislation Meets Oil-zilla

The film asks this question and then through interviews and examining contemporaneous news reports challenges viewers to follow their investigation and try to predict which groups have the main responsibility.

The range of suspects includes the carmakers, the Bush Administration, various official bodies in California, etc.

The legislation meets its doom when the U.S. government sues the state of California on behalf of the car manufacturers who claim that the state law is too onerous for them to meet its demand of 10% zero-emission cars on the road. Various officials are interviwed. The audience in the theatre reacted with amusement when some of them were clearly squirming as they tried to explain what they did, or didn't do, to uphold a law voted for by the public.


Electricity as Fuel

Is the electric car really "clean"? The film does not examine the issue of whether plugging in a car will unnecessarily burden the grid, nor whether fuel is burned to produce the electricity that's being used. The sole focus is whether a person can be allowed to drive a vehicle that in itself is not actually emitting pollutants of any kind.

Further, the issue of whether California could spare the electricty was not addressed either, although this drama took place during the time when the state was dealing with a supply crisis created by Enron's manipulation of the system.

And it's not wasteful of resources. There are few parts that need any repairs. As it turns out, this was one reason car companies deliberately created conditions for "failure" of the technology and the "refusal" of the public to buy it. GM and other companies make a lot of money from selling replacement parts. They are just not interested in giving up that cash cow.


Not a "Free" Market

Meanwhile the carmakers seemed to do all that was possible to undermine sales.

And the crowning touch to the campaign shows how the most determined consumers who wanted this little car so badly that they were willing to mount a demonstration against the covert action of hauling away the cars to be crushed end up being treated as criminals. Did you really think the "free" market was about consumer choice? Think again.


GM's counter-advertising

Most instructive is showing an example of print advertising. There's only a brownish picture, with stick-figure shadows. One wonders if the company searched high and low to find the most unappealing imagery and colour use they could possibly have selected. There are no smiling people, no bright friendly colours -- especially no GREEN which would logically be associated with a technology designed to reduce environmental contamination -- and no appeal to youth, fun, vitality, and other typical selling points.

Most tellingly, the cars were never offered for sale. If you managed to get past all the negative counter-sell tactic, you could only sign a lease. That allowed the car company to repossess all the vehicles.


Hollywood Connections

Interviewees: Mel Gibson and other actors were some of the few individuals who were actually able to obtain a lease and drive one of these vehicles. Gibson summed up the hoops through which he'd had to jump by joking that you had to tell GM whether you'd seen your proctologist and he had looked up your backside.

That impression was probably valid, if the black humour seems a bit coarse. A woman who had worked in the EV marketing department explained how the company restricted their own staff and seemed determined to dissuade people from wanting the vehicle.

But the "stars" of entertainment world weren't the heroes nor were they the most appealing characters in this drama.

My vote for the most memorable and attractive characters in the story goes to NiMH-battery-inventor Stanford R. Ovshinsky and his wife Iris, who appear at several points in the film. This delightful elderly couple are a bright spot in a film examining the worst abuses of greed and disregard for democracy and market freedom. Their humour and obvious mutual affection is infectious. I was glad that the film closes soon after their last appearance. And now learning that Iris has passed away makes this film all the more valuable for introducing us to her, and letting us get to know this remarkable inventor and his life partner. See her obit at [1]

Most Innocent Character: the EV itself

Throughout, we are treated to scenes of a small, clean-lined, peppy little vehicle being driven. Yes, I know they're just machines. But as the fight over their fate swirls around them, they start to assume a persona of innocent babyhood. Later in the film, when the vehicles are sadly incarcerated behind a high chain-link fence I can't help feeling as I do when I see animals caged at the humane society -- on "death row" for pets unless they are reprieved by being adopted by a new human companion.

But there was no reprieve for these charming little cars.

At the end, there's a touching scene of the reunion between the woman who had been on the marketing staff, and one of the cars ignominously hidden away in a basement full of old models of cars. She immediately opens the door and jumps in, reaching for the starter. Belatedly, the man who was showing her into this mausoleum for old cars invites her to get into it, eliciting a chuckle from the otherwise emotionally-saddened audience. There's a further audience reaction when he says, "Well of course we had to deactivate it." That was a condition imposed by the car company before they would allow the car museum to have one as a souvenir.

Contents

Official Websites

Documentary Activist Websites

  • http://PlugInAmerica.com - Chelsea Sexton's website about electric vehicles, to preserve and promote their advancement as a feasible solution.

Purchase DVD

Trailer

available at http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar/electric.html

Full Film

Part 1 of 9

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Part 2 of 9

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Part 3 of 9

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Part 4 of 9

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Part 5 of 9

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Part 6 of 9

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Part 7 of 9

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Part 8 of 9

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Part 9 of 9

In the News

  • EVs > Electric Cars >
    EV1 Protester to Beta Test Drive GMs Volt - Chelsea Sexton, who made the famous Who Killed the Electric Car? documentary, is now happy to be chosen by the same company who smashed the earlier electric car, to be one of 15 drivers chosen to test drive one of their pre-production extended-range Chevy Volts for three months. (USA Today; Nov. 12, 2010)
  • Why GM Created then Destroyed the EV1 - Leslie R. Pastor argues that GM had a significant motive for scrapping the EV1: they intended to prolong the use of gasoline system engines in cooperation and collaboration with the International Oil Companies. (PESWiki; Mar. 4, 2008)

See also

ELECTRIC VEHICLES FOOTER

FUEL EFFICIENCY

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