Saturday, June 23, 2007

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car? is an interesting documentary about the rise and fall of the electric car in the 1990's.

California passed a zero emissions mandate in 1990 requiring automakers to make a certain percentage of their fleets zero emissions by a certain date, due mainly to the horrid and very unhealthy air quality conditions in California.

The General Motors' EV1 was an electric car that met those standards.

Getting around 100 miles per charge, it was more than adequate for most people's daily driving needs. "Filling up" the car was done by plugging it in either at home or at a charging station around town.

It cost about a third as much to charge it as it would have to buy a comparable amount of gas and it took about 50 EV1s to create as much pollution as one gasoline powered car.

Then came the opposition. California's zero emission mandate was repealed after heavy lobbying from automakers, the petroleum industry and the White House. GM took back all the EV1s when their leases expired, despite the begging and pleading from their owners to extend their lease or to even buy the car.

A short while later, 78 EV1s were discovered in a fenced-in parking lot behind a GM office building. EV1 drivers got together, collected money and offered GM a check for $1.9 million to take the cars they were planning on scrapping anyway. GM refused.

There's a lot more to the documentary, including what GM did and didn't do to promote the cars, what people had to do to actually lease them (one guy had to wait six weeks despite the fact that the car he wanted was just sitting there on the lot) as well as exploring who the culprits were behind the death of the electric car.

One of the more interesting culprits, they say, is hydrogen. Despite the success and demand for the EV1, automakers, The White House and the oil industry lobbied against it in favor of hydrogen powered vehicles. While that may not sound so terrible, the theory of using hydrogen to power cars is a little like saying you're going to turn lead into gold. It takes a lot of money and energy to create hydrogen and if it were to ever become wide-spread it would require an entirely new distribution infrastructure. And that's exactly why automakers, the oil industry and good ol' boy George W. (aren't those synonymous?) are promoting it: appear to be trying to do something good when you think it will never take off.

Most of the hour and a half-long movie is interesting and thought-provoking, although there are a couple scenes where environmental activists do things that make me think, "That's why people don't take you seriously." Like having a funeral service for a car. Other than that, it's definitely worth the cost of the rental.