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In 1996, electric cars began to appear on roads all over California. They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust, and ran without gasoline. Ten years later, these futuristic cars were almost entirely gone. What happened? Why must we be haunted by the ghost of the electric car?
Opening Narration

Who Killed The Electric Car? is a 2006 documentary directed by Chris Paine and distributed by Sony Classic Pictures. It is narrated by Martin Sheen.

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In the 1990s, GM launched the EV1, the first mass produced electric vehicle in decades. Other automakers followed suit in order to comply with Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate, or ZEV, a new California law requiring automakers to build non-polluting cars. Eventually, however, the mandate was annulled, and almost all of the cars were taken off the streets and crushed.

The film explores the reasons for the dismantlement of the EV1 program, wondering if there was a conspiracy in the termination of the EV1 program.

The film was critically acclaimed and won several environmental awards. In 2011, Chris Paine released a sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car, which explores the electric car renaissance that began in the early 2010s.

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Tropes Are:

  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Hydrogen cars are portrayed this way: an exciting new alternative, but one that is inefficient, costly, and distracting from more reasonable solutions like better fuel economy standards.
    • The Sunraycer was very awesome, winning a race across the Australian Outback, but very impractical. But it inspired GM executives into producing a practical electric car.
  • Cool Car: The EV1, to many people who drove it.
  • Cool Old Guy: Stan Ovshinsky, Gadgeteer Genius and inventor of the Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: See Conspiracy Theories
  • Fog of Doom: The infamous LA smog, is described by CA State Representative Alan Lowenthal as "the black cloud of death".
  • Fun with Acronyms: California Air Resources Board, or CARB, the body that controls car pollution in California.
  • Green Aesop: While electric cars as a solution to air pollution and oil dependence is touched upon, the main subject purpose of the film is to explore why GM and other car companies stopped producing them. They also talk about how solutions to the end of oil like hydrogen are not practical alternatives.
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  • Hummer Dinger: The Hummer is an obvious Acceptable Target in a movie about electric cars. But what was glaring was the fact that the US government was giving business owners who bought Hummers ten of thousands of dollars in tax deductions, while people who bought a fuel efficient car got only a few thousand dollars.
  • Metaphorically True: While it is technically possible to build an electric vehicle with a 300 mile range, they are prohibitively expensive; the Tesla Roadster, built using better technology than was available in the 1990s, only boasted a 240 mile range and a $100,000+ price tag. The Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle produced for the general public circa 2010, had a range similar to the EVs from the 1990s and was not cheap, in part due to its $15,000 battery pack which Nissan may or may not have been taking a loss on.
    • Additionally, while it is true that electric vehicles require less maintenance, that does not necessarily mean that what maintenance they will eventually require won't be extremely expensive; electric vehicle batteries are extremely expensive, and depending on the design, may necessitate $15,000 worth of maintenance all at once. How long batteries will last is not well-established; some estimates put it at 100,000 miles. Of course, if the car companies are buying their batteries from elsewhere, the movie's claims of the maintenance not being very profitable to the car companies may still be true.
    • One argument against electric cars was that they would still be contributed to pollution since much of California's energy was produced by burning coal. While that is partially true, overall emissions from driving an electric car would still be lower.
  • Older Than They Think: invoked As the film points out, electric cars existed in the early 1900s, and at one point outsold gasoline cars, before easy petroleum, mass production, and the electric starter propelled gasoline cars to the forefront.
  • Ray of Hope Ending: While the cancellation of the EV1 program may have stopped mass produced electric vehicles for a time, converted EVs, prototypes like the Tesla Roadster, and looming energy and climate limits would mean the electric car would return. This renaissance was later explored in Revenge Of The Electric Car.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: S. David Freeman, the Chattanooga-born head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a public advocate for green energy.
  • Spiritual Successor: The EV1 was this to the Impact concept car, which was a successor to the solar-powered Sunraycer. The Chevy Volt is considered a descendant of the EV1.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The Impact was very popular, and GM CEO Roger Smith promised to produce this car. The never anticipated that CARB would force them to actually make zero-emissions vehicles, nor expect such grassroots support for their cars.
  • Stylistic Suck: GM apparently invoked this with their various ads and commercials to discourage demand for the cars, and to educate consumers as little as possible about them.
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