Who Killed The Electric Car?

Chris Paine's ode to General Motors' EV1, an electric car whose brief promise of a future free from dependence on gasoline and its choking by-products was rudely crushed, leaving devoted EV1 owners so devastated that a group of them staged a mock funeral. Paine was one such owner (executive producer Dean Devlin was another), and if he's hell-bent on finding...read more

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Chris Paine's ode to General Motors' EV1, an electric car whose brief promise of a future free from dependence on gasoline and its choking by-products was rudely crushed, leaving devoted EV1 owners so devastated that a group of them staged a mock funeral. Paine was one such owner (executive producer Dean Devlin was another), and if he's hell-bent on finding a conspiracy behind the rise and fall of the EV1 he's also decent enough to allow that a naturally occurring perfect storm of broad-based consumer boneheadedness, corporate bad faith, shortsighted governance and general resistance to change might also have been to blame. Paine begins in 1990, when car-clogged California's smog crisis, coupled with the fact that GM had recently unveiled the prototype for a workable electric car, prompted the state's Air Resources Board to pass a radical resolution: the Zero Emissions Mandate. It required that within eight years, two percent of all cars sold in California had to be emissions-free, and that the percentage was to reach 10 by 2003. The EV1 was the commercial version of the unfortunately named Impact, which was developed at the behest of notorious CEO Roger Smith (the "Roger" of Michael Moore's 1989 ROGER AND ME) after a custom-built "sun racer" built by GM engineers won the 1987 World Solar Challenge race. EV1s began rolling into dealerships in California and Arizona in December 1996. The quiet, snazzy-looking two-seater got between 70 and 120 miles to a charge, but was available for lease only; prospective buyers endured long waits, vague delivery dates and intrusive interviews. And they still loved their cars, from celebrities like Tom Hanks, who talked up his on Late Night with David Letterman to Peter Horton, whose EV1 wound up as the last one in private hands. Paine argues persuasively that as a corporate entity, GM undermined the EV1 at every turn, then cut back production after claiming there was no consumer demand. When leases came due, GM repossessed the cars and crushed them. He also marshals extensive evidence that the automotive and petroleum industries banded together to force the Zero Emissions Mandate's repeal; that the Reagan and Bush administrations systematically dismantled federal policies supporting fuel economy, conservationism, and alternative fuel sources instituted by President Carter during the '70s gas crisis; and that hidebound automakers poisoned mainstream consumers against the very idea of electric cars by exploiting bigger-is-better status consciousness, resistance to government interference (the same interference that mandated seat belts, air bags and safety glass), and suspicions that tree-hugging sissies wanted to force everyone to drive mingy little golf carts. Impassioned, unwieldy and padded with celebrity interviews, Paine's documentary ends on a surprisingly upbeat note, suggesting that America's "addiction to oil" is complex and deep-rooted but not hopeless, given the collective will to find a solution.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Chris Paine's ode to General Motors' EV1, an electric car whose brief promise of a future free from dependence on gasoline and its choking by-products was rudely crushed, leaving devoted EV1 owners so devastated that a group of them staged a mock funeral.… (more)

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