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Who Killed the Electric Car?

7 Ratings: 3.9
A movie

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Genre: Documentary
Release Date: June 28, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG
1 review about Who Killed the Electric Car?

A frustrating but educational 'murder' mystery

  • Apr 9, 2009
  • by
When I got "Who Killed the Electric Car?" through Netflix this week, one of my friends told me the movie would make me very angry. "Like if you found out we could have been living on the moon for the past 50 years," he said.

Well, it was frustrating, but in an eye-opening way. The film begins with a star-studded, emotional funeral... for an electric car. First the filmmakers present the idea that electric cars were on the roads in California in the 1990s, and were even some of the first vehicles ever made in the early 20th century.

Some of the information blew my mind (probably because I was in grade school when there were major developments). In 1990 California passed an emissions mandate that said car companies had to gradually come up with cleaner vehicles if they wanted to sell in CA. I thought, "Well that obviously didn't really happen." An electric vehicle was fully developed and sold in the 90s by -- of all companies -- GM. We all know how the company is doing now, with its huge clunky cars and government bailouts.

Once we're presented with this background on the EV1 -- and the realization that car manufacturing could have been very, very different -- the rest of the film is spent figuring out how we got to where we are. It is a "whodunit" of sorts, to determine just why we aren't all driving EV's.

I won't give away the ending (Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the candlestick!), but will comment on the "murder" suspects. One of the people interviewed in the film described GM as "cannibalistic" toward its EV1, and that's really the best way to put it. After manufacturing and starting to sell the car, the company did everything in its power to kill it, even turning down enthusiastic, checkbook-wielding consumers.

Even the car companies we think of as "good guys," like Honda and Toyota, lobbied against emissions mandates that would encourage more electrics. Of course, the difference is that now those foreign companies have done very well with their hybrids, while domestic carmakers continue to struggle, both developmentally and financially.

Not surprisingly, other suspects include big oil and the government. One of my favorite parts was when an oil company representative tried to explain that EV's didn't succeed because they were made with "antiquated technology." Uh, how about that gloop that you harvest out of the ground?

Personally I suspect that the early electric vehicles could have done better in today's climate -- costly wars with oil-rich countries, global warming, skyrocketing gas prices, a struggling economy. But back then we were still in our blind "bigger is better" stage.

The movie was pretty obviously made with a left-of-center view, so as with any doc you can't take everything at face value. I'm still curious about some details, like why GM made the EV1 in the first place, and why companies have seemingly taken a step back with electric/gas hybrids. But if you want to learn more about the history of electric cars -- and find out the culprit -- I would definitely recommend the film.

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December 03, 2011
After viewing this, I can't perceive hybrid automobiles as anything other than a second-rate compromise. The EV-1 was a superior vehicle, and it's since been bettered by many other electric models that aren't widely available. In response to the curiosity expressed in your concluding paragraph, the car simply transcended GM's expectations of a model manufactured primarily to satisfy political obligations.

Personally, I disagree with your assertion that this film's narrative leans left - I've recommended it to friends and acquaintances of vastly differing political positions, and everyone seems to enjoy it. Its condemnation of political figures in the venal employ of big oil and the auto industry is by no means limited to right-wing officials. Furthermore, concern regarding air pollution, opposition to moneyed, politicized special interests and the promotion of technology which utilizes alternative energy sources are by no means exclusively left-wing imperatives.
January 20, 2010
Never mind the electric car, I'd vote for the flying car instead ;-)
June 29, 2009
Sounds fascinating. Thanks for mentioning the political slant as well. Seems to me we have to pursue a wide variety of options to get where we need to go. I have always been a huge proponent of conservation. Conservation alone will certainly not solve the problem but once people are on board with that then I think the next steps needed will be easier to swallow. For me the problem with the electric car is that much of the electricity we will need to generate to power these vehicles is created by burning coal. Did they address this issue in the film?
June 06, 2009
Good review; I think GM was going for political moves here "Hey, look what we got!" but never seriously considered the electric car: take a look at their stock for proof! At Pacific Gas and Electric utility, and Tesla Motors have come out with several electric and hybrid vehicles that put those earlier models to shame. I believe the entire PG&E fleet is made of mostly hybrid vehicles, cars and trucks. There's been plenty of innovation since this film was made; there is hope.
April 10, 2009
I felt similarly after seeing this movie. The Selfish Hippie even wrote a piece on it.
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