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Who Killed the Electric Car? · 25 January 06

Who Killed the Electric Car

David Dymaxion got a chance to see an early showing of the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car? at this week’s Sundance Film Festival.

David posted a review of the film to the Electric Vehicle Discussion List and I asked for permission to re-post it here for those who don’t follow the list.

What follows is David’s review.

First a few words on what the film was not. I was afraid it might be just a series of moron-in-the-street interviews. Luckily, the interviewees included scientists, politicians, electric car technical people, electric car activists, and a small number of man-in-the-street interviews. I was also afraid it might be a “Capitalism Bad, Government Good” movie. In contrast I thought it was fair in spreading the blame between government, big oil, car companies, and consumers. A similar fear was it might be a “Republican Bad, Democrats Good” kind of movie. I found it to be neutral and factual; indeed I don’t think the words “Republican” or “Democrat” were never used. I was afraid the movie might just beat the “No war for oil” drum, but there was very little on that. Finally, I was afraid the movie might take itself too seriously, or be without hope. Thankfully, it did have some great comic relief moments (that still made a good point) and ended with some good positive notes. The film will appeal to a broader audience than I first figured.

EV XRay View

The movie starts with a brief history of electric cars and quickly delves into the modern era of major manufacturer freeway capable electrics, the GM EV1, the Toyota RAV4EV, the Think, the Nissan Altra (sp?), and the Honda EV+. I love the scenes with the EV1 tearing around. One scene shows a drag race between the EV1, a Miata, and a Nissan 300ZX. The EV1 destroyed them. Another one of my favorite scenes was EV1 vs. Hummer at a racetrack.

The history of the cars is followed, including how all these fine cars were crushed. Personal note, I rented EV1s twice and drove maybe 700 miles total. I loved drag racing a brand new Lexus from a stop light and beating it. It was painful to see the pictures of crushed or about to be crushed EV1s and EV+s. Also highlighted were some of the activists’ efforts to save the cars.

In parallel, a political history is followed. Most of the attention is on the California Air Resources Board (CARB), how their zero emissions mandate sparked the cars, and how their removing the mandate doomed them. Dovetailing with this are the lobbying efforts by the big car companies. The Federal Corporate Fleet Average Economy (CAFE) standards are also discussed. Oil statistics are given.

Sprinkled throughout are short interviews with auto industry execs, CARB scientists, electric car engineers, politicians, Hollywood Stars, owners, and activists. I especially liked interviews with Stan Ovinsky (inventor of the Nimh battery) and Chelsea, the EV1 specialist (salesperson) turned electric car activist. I also thought it was neat she was at the showing and answered audience questions and then some of my questions afterwards.

The movie sums up with ranking as guilty or not guilty government, big oil, car companies, and consumers. You’ll have to see the movie for that tally.

Rounding out the discussion are quick looks at Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles (the movie claims they are 4x more inefficient than battery electrics), hybrids (these do hold a lot of promise), and a very quick look at what I think was Reverend Gadget of Left Coast Conversions converting an old gas car to electric power.

The only EVDL things I recognized in the credits were “Left Coast Conversions” and “David Goldstein.”

Overall summary, great film, I enjoyed it. It was definitely worth the trip.

++After movie Q&A++

Chris Paine thinks hybrids are a promising technology. He mentioned the Plug-in Prius project, which is adding batteries to a Toyota Prius so it can be run a useful number of miles on pure electricity. Someone is supposed to start selling a $10k or $12k kit to do this to a Prius.

He has a few more weeks to work on the film for its final version.

The movie has been picked up by Sony and is due for release late spring or early fall. They need to have a good first 3 weeks for the movie to succeed.

He didn’t have time in the film to talk about everything. For instance, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs), basically golf carts, are getting popular in some communities.

Chris placed blame on the consumers, too. Apparently the big hurdle for many people was the perceived need for a car that would go to Las Vegas.

Comments 4
  1. Shaun Williams    Jan 25, 2006 18:27 PM    #
    Excellent review David. Can’t wait for the DVD. Sounds like a great tool to help answer those suspicious questions us EV owners get from the unconvinced!
  2. — Greg Coleman    Jan 27, 2006 00:40 AM    #
    Sounds good. My pet peeve with the hybrids of now, is that the distance they can go on a battery is way too short. I think they should be able to run 20 miles on the batteries alone, so most of the city driving on average would be very clean. Then the engine could hop in for highway speeds.
  3. — James May    Jan 27, 2006 08:17 AM    #
    Greg, I think you are right, having a plug in hybrid with a large battery would be the way of least resistance for getting efficient cars to the public.
    I get a little bit sad when I see that Lexus is offering a large hybrid SUV. All that extra complexity and weight and you will only get the fuel efficiency of a large non-SUV car at the end of it. Seems a bit ridiculous, the message being “the West can keep it’s SUVs as long as they are hybrid” We need more of a step change than that!
  4. — Karl    Jan 27, 2006 18:36 PM    #
    When the hybrid H4 hits the streets, I’m giving up on Detroit.