Back in March, I watched the video of the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) and have neglected to write about it because I found it so amazingly depressing and infuriating simultaneously. The film, narrated by The West Wing’s Martin Sheen, documented how the Ford Motor Company developed a viable electric vehicle in the mid-1990s, the EV1, that had a small but fervent fan base and was in the process of developing a significant infrastructure to fuel these cars, and then took it away. You’ll see how actors such as Tom Hanks, Ed Begley Jr., and especially Peter Horton of “thirtysomething” were huge advocates for the car, which required minimal maintenance.
Yet, for reasons that are still not clear to me, the car was removed from the marketplace. The people who wanted to keep the cars were unable to do so because the cars were leased to them, and if they didn’t return them to the company, they were threatened with arrest for grand theft auto. Not only were they unable to keep them, they had to stand by helplessly as Ford had these perfectly good cars destroyed. I’m not even a car guy, and I found it utterly painful.
The movie’s director Chris Paine suggests that the blame for the failure of electric cars lies with the car company, the petroleum industry, and the government, among others. He also blame the consumers, and I will take issue with this. For the “sales job” that Ford did on this vehicle was to point out all its deficiencies such as its limited range of miles traveled before refueling, rather than emphasizing the economic and ecological benefits. He gave a pass on the battery, which did have a 40- or 50-mile limit, because it was improved to double that; this information never got to the consumer.
I was watching the news for the past several weeks, and there’s conversation about a new viable electric car, but it seems that the industry wasted the last decade in continuing to be dependent on foreign oil. The argument in the 1990s was that everyone charging their cars wouldn’t work because it’d blow the energy grid. But if people were charging overnight, when demand is less, this argument doesn’t hold water (or gasoline). In any case, a tragedy.