While few American consumers ever heard of the electric cars in California, those that did were not necessarily critical mass for this new technology. Thanks to lower gas prices and infatuation with SUVs, few people looked towards this new technology. While some were fans, many more needed time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of these new cars whether freedom from oil or with the perceived limitations of a city car with 100 mile range.
Although allegations are made about consumers by industry reps in the film, perhaps explaining the film’s “guilty” verdict, the actual consumers interviewed in the film were either unaware an electric car was ever available to try, or dismayed that they could no longer obtain one. Batteries
In a bit of an unexpected turn, the film’s sole “not-guilty” suspect is batteries, one of the chief culprits if you asked the oil or auto industries. At the time GM’s EV1 came to market, it came with a lead acid battery with a range of 60 miles. The film suggests that since the average driving distance of Americans in a day is 30 miles or less and so for 90% of Americans, electric cars would work as a daily commute car or second car. The second generation EV1 from 1998 to the end of the program, featured nickel-metal or even lithium batteries with a ranges of about 100 or more miles.
The film documents that the company which had supplied batteries for EV1, Ovonics, had been suppressed from announcing improved batteries, with double the range, lest CARB be influenced that batteries were improving. Later, General Motors sold the supplier’s majority control share to Chevron/Cobasys. As part of the not-guilty verdict, the famed engineer Alan Cocconi explains that with laptop computer lithium ion batteries, the EV1 could have been upgraded to a range of 300 miles per charge. He makes this point in front of his T-Zero prototype, the car that inspired the Tesla Roadster.
The oil industry, through its major lobby group the Western States Petroleum Association, is brought to task for financing campaigns to kill utility efforts to build public car charging stations. Through astroturfing groups like “Californians Against Utility Abuse” they posed as consumers instead of the industry interests they actually represented. Mobil and other oil companies are also shown to be advertising directly against electric cars in national publications, even when electric cars seem little to do with their core business.
At the end of the film Chevron bought patents and controlling interest in Ovonics, the advanced battery company featured in the film ostensibly to prevent modern NiMH batteries from being used in non-hybrid electric cars. The documentary also refers to manipulation of oil prices by overseas suppliers in 1980s as an example of the industry working to kill competition and keep customers from moving toward alternatives to oil.
Car CompaniesWith GM as its primary example, the film documents that car makers engaged in both positive and negative marketing of the electric car as its intentions toward the car and California legislation changed. In earlier days GM ran Super Bowl ads produced by ILM for the EV1. In later days it ran “award winning” doomsday style advertising featuring the EV1 and ran customer surveys which emphasized drawbacks to electronic vehicle technology which were not actually present in the EV1 (As a side note, CARB officials were quoted claiming that they removed their zero emission vehicle quotas in part because they gave weight to such surveys purportedly showing no demand existing for the EV1s. )
Other charges raised on GM included sabotaging their own product program, failing to produce cars to meet existing demand, and refusing to sell cars directly (it only leased them).
The film also describes the history of automaker efforts to destroy competing technologies, such as their destruction through front companies of public transit systems in the United States in the early 20th century. In addition of EV1, the film also showed Toyota RAV4 EV, Honda EV Plus were being cancelled by their respective car companies, with the crushing of Honda EV Plus gained attention only after appearing quite by accident on an episode of PBS’s California Green with Huell Howser.
In an interview with retired GM board member Tom Everhart, the film points out that GM killed the EV1 to focus on more immediately profitable enterprises such as its Hummer and truck brands instead of preparing for future challenges. Ralph Nader, in a brief appearance, points out that auto makers usually only respond to government regulation when it comes to important advances whether seat belts, airbags, catalytic converters, mileage requirements or, by implication, hybrid/electric cars.
The film suggests Toyota supported the production of Toyota Prius hybrid in part as a response to Clinton’s Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles and other US Government pressure that was later dropped.
Though GM cited cost as a deterrent to continuing with the EV1, the film interviewed critics contending that the cost of batteries and electric vehicles would have been reduced significantly if mass production began, due to economies of scale. There is also discussion about electric cars threatening dealer profits since they have so few service requirements no tuneups, no oil changes, and less brake jobs because of regenerative braking.
US governmentWhile not overtly political, the film documents that the US federal government under the George W. Bush Administration joined the auto industry suit against California in 2002 – pushing California to finally abandon its ZEV mandate regulation.
The film notes that Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card had recently been head of the American Automobile Manufacturers Alliance in California and then joined the White House with Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and other federal officials who were former executives or board members of oil and auto companies. By failing to increase mileage standards in a meaningful way since the 1970s and now interfering in California, the federal government had again served short term industry interests at the expense of long range leadership on issue of oil dependency and cleaner cars.
California Air Resources BoardIn 2003, the CARB, headed by Democrat Alan Lloyd, finally caved to industry pressure and drastically scaled back the ZEV mandate after defending the regulation for more than 12 years. While championing CARB’s efforts on behalf of California’s with its 1990 mandate (and other regulations over the years), the film suggests Lloyd may have had a conflict of interest as the director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
The ZEV change allowed a marginal amount of hydrogen fuel cell cars to be produced in the future versus the immediate continued growth of its electric car requirement. Footage shot in the meetings showed Lloyd shutting down battery electric car proponents while giving the car makers all the time they wanted to make their points. Hydrogen fuel cell
The hydrogen fuel cell was presented by the film as an alternative that distracts attention from the real and immediate potential of electric vehicles to an unlikely future possibility embraced by auto makers, oil companies and a pro-business administration in order to buy time and profits for the status quo. The film corroborates the claim that hydrogen vehicles are a mere distraction by stating that “A fuel cell car powered by hydrogen made with electricity uses three to four times more energy than a car powered by batteries” and by interviewing the author of The Hype About Hydrogen, who lists five problems he sees with hydrogen vehicles:
High cost, limits on driving range due to current materials, expense of hydrogen fuel, the need for an entire new fueling infrastructure, and competition from other technologies in the marketplace, such as hybrids.
SummaryAll in all the movie “Who killed the electric car”, directed by Chris Paine was overall an awesome movie in which was very interesting. The movie teaches us as American citizens a new invention that can not only better our lives but as well as for the many in the future. It is sad to see that major organizations and companies would completely kill the electric car