Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Martin Sheen (narrator), Chelsea Sexton, Alexandra Paul, J. Karen Thomas, Colette Divine, Peter Horton, Mel Gibson, Phyllis Diller, Tom Hanks
Director: Chris Paine
Screenplay: Chris Paine
The electric car has been with us for a long time, since the early days of the automotive industry, but limitations at the time compared to fuel engine vehicles caused it to lose out in popularity. In this era of rampant pollution and oil dependence, a switch back to electric automobiles seems like a prudent choice for many consumers, and California even adopted a progressive plan to increase "zero emissions" vehicles manufactured by car companies, which led to several popular models running solely on electricity, including the popular EV1, by GM. While use of the car was simple (plug in overnight for a charge good for about 60 miles of travel), and there appeared to be ample consumer demand, one by one, automobile manufacturers began to dismantle their electric car programs, even going so far as recalling all existing leased cars for destruction.
The question posed by Chris Paine's documentary is, "Who is responsible for the demise of the electric car?" In the end, Paine points to a variety of factors that all led to the death of the electric car as a potential solution to the nation's widespread, environmentally unfriendly use of oil. Actually, what the film is really about is to spread awareness to consumers about the existence of alternative modes of transportation that are not as harmful to the air quality and economy as gas guzzling vehicles, perhaps even sparking a potential backlash against corporate, industry, and government officials who seem to be very much against the general public knowing that such technology exists.
Paine's documentary relies heavily on celebrities and industry professionals in order to get talking head interviews regarding the ease of use and efficiency of the EV1, nearly all of whom are definitely for the continued use of electricity as a means of transportation. The delivery is obviously biased, showing the benevolence of EV1 users, as well as the ostensibly callous tactics used by the auto and oil corporations to thwart the success of the electric car as a viability for many consumers. However, even recognizing the film's bias, it's hard not to be swayed by the notion that there wasn't a concerted effort made to not only put an end to the electric car, but also to keep these vehicles outside of the public consciousness as gas prices escalate and gas guzzling SUVs and pickups are mass marketed as "must own" vehicles.
Perhaps the consumer demand for electric cars may be overstated by this documentary. Perhaps GM's subsequent dismantling of the EV1 plants and destruction of existing vehicles isn't as insidious as portrayed in the film. Perhaps we are getting only half the story regarding the real reason for the eclectic car's demise. Whatever the reason, Who Killed the Electric Car remains an effective documentary for shedding light on a type of vehicle technology largely unknown to the general public, as well as raising key questions regarding our future on oil dependence and potentially quixotic emphasis on hydrogen fuel cells as the main alternative to the oil powered engine.
If you're unsure about electric cars, or in just trying to learn about alternative forms of energy, Who Killed the Electric Car? may not be the definitive source for unbiased information, but it's a good start on hearing a distinct voice from the other side that persuades in a simple, effective, and often humorous manner. It opens eyes, if nothing else.
©2006 Vince Leo