Who Killed the Electric Car

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  • Topic: Electric vehicle, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Zero-emissions vehicle
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Consumption & the Environment (FSEM)
Professor Jhaveri
November 14, 2006

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The audience is the jury. Paine is the lawyer. The case: who killed the electric car? Suspects: the government, consumers, battery technology, oil companies, California Air and Resource Board (CARB) and the hydrogen fuel cell. Directed by Chris Paine, Who Killed the Electric Car? is a documentary about the demise of the electric car seen through the eyes of an electric car activist (previous GM EV1 owner) and current electric car driver (Toyota RAV4 EV). As Chris Paine takes the readers through the trial of who killed the electric car, his main focus is on the reasons for the removal of the electric car, how our economy is suffering because of this removal and how the electric car is slowly gaining popularity again.

This film is targeted towards GM shareholders, those who are interested in electric vehicles, or have questions or concerns about global warming, dependence on foreign oil, air pollution or the environment, so Paine primarily focuses on the fate of General Motors’ EV1 electric car. The EV1’s were introduced to the California market in 1996 in response to California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) legislation. California was in a pollution crisis. The amount of smog in the air threatened public health. The California Air and Resource Board (CARB) targeted the source of the problem, auto exhaust. The ZEV legislation required two percent of vehicles sold in California to be emissions free by 1998 and ten percent of the cars sold in California to be emissions free by 2003. With this new legislation, the reemergence of the electric car, a vehicle that was once popular in the thirties, began. Before this legislation General Motors had previewed an electric car, the Impact. Because it had flaws such as a low maximum speed, and low mileage per charge, it wasn’t popular. In 1996, General Motors introduced the Impact prototype, the EV1. The EV1 electric car was a revolutionary vehicle requiring no gas, no oil changes, no mufflers, and rare brake maintenance. It was fast, reasonably priced, got seventy to eighty miles per charge and had an appealing style. If we had a product that was so desirable and worked so well why aren’t they around anymore?

Through interviews with GM Motor representatives, EV1 consumers (many of whom were celebrities), Alan Cocconi, the man responsible for building a prototype of a solar racer and helped create the EV1 vehicle, Chelsea Sexton, former General Motors EV1 electric vehicle program worker and advocate for clean and efficient transportation, engineers and technicians who led the development of modern electric vehicles, spokesmen for the automakers such as GM’s Dave Barthmuss, a vocal opponent of the film and the EV1, and prominent political figures such as Ralph Nader, and Frank Gaffney, truths about the extinction of the EV1 car were revealed.

The footage from the development, launch and marketing of the EV1 cars reveals all the different aspects that contributed to the extinction of this car. If a product is not openly advertised then consumers won’t know about it. The media strongly dictates what people should and shouldn’t buy. If a product is not heavily advertised consumers won’t know about it and it will have a hard time selling. This was one problem that the EV1 faced. But who’s really to blame? Paine takes the viewers through each suspect’s profile. He begins with the consumers. Although consumers weren’t constantly reminded about the EV1 car there were enough on the road for people to know they were out there. Paine made consumers a suspect because many consumers had a lot of ambivalence towards the new technology of the EV1 electric car. The consumers were also unwilling to try something new and compromise for environmental matters. Although initially attracted to it’s style and cost, consumers were still skeptical about the EV1’s...
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