Kindred to the Al Gore-starring documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car? has the wherewithal to entertain and dispirit viewers given the current high cost at the gas pumps.
Chris Paine (who hails from Palo Alto, California) directs this intriguing documentary almost in Agatha Christie fashion (there being multiple suspects), with the title ultimately being misleading in that who could very easily have been changed with what.
The structure isn't nearly as sound as the presentation which offers a history lesson and plenty of facts and figures. About a century ago electric cars were quieter and more efficient than gasoline-powered ones. Comedienne Phyllis Diller was around during the early days and mentions that being in one was "like sitting inside of a lamp." Yet, mass production, cheap oil, and automatic starters led to a quick decline of electric cars from the market.
The momentum from a start of a strange funeral for General Motors' EV-1 tries to enlighten one to the mysterious demise of these cars which had a rebirth from the funding of a practical consumer electric car by former GM CEO Roger Smith in 1988.
Martin Sheen provides the voice-over as Paine gets many to talk about a vehicle that gained some prominence with the 1990 Zero Emissions Mandate from the California Air Resources Board. That eco-friendly law would stir up the American Automobile Manufacturing Association. The more notable names include consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Hollywood superstars like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson (here sporting a thick salt & pepper beard). Some are more interesting than others with some women like actress Alexandra Paul, former CARB chairwoman Jananne Sharpless, and likable EVI Sales Specialist Chelsea Sexton conveying a lot regarding the sporty EV-1, especially the ease to charge them for a typical driving day.
These cars, whose maintenance check-up included tire rotation and changing windshield-washer fluid, were leased in the US starting around 1996. But, GM eventually discontinued them and refused existing leases. Paine shows the result of the repossession so none would return again. Out in Arizona's proving grounds many are crushed instead of GM's original official statement of recycling. So, this conspiracy-theory cinema verite gets much of its mileage from its liberal-minded advocates and activism to try and shift legislation.
The analysis is deftly mindful of the sources behind the untimely death of the EV-1 (Paine still drives his Toyota RAV-4 EV after GM confiscated his EV-1), including the consumer, the automakers, the oil companies, and the CARB, as well as the government. Looks seem to go a long way rather than efficiency, the SUV immediate profitability over short-term profit loss, funding of lobbyists to oppose alternate technologies and electric-charging facilities, and the inability to increase fuel efficiency standards as well as tax credits for purchasing SUV's are the actions of the guilty parties.
It's a thorough, sit-up and take notice examination indeed that makes its point underlining the collusion and sinister motives. Hybrid vehicles have gained more prominence in the timeline of the reticience to accept what potentially dark future lies ahead as more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. America has realized the need to combine an internal-combustion engine with electric motor and high-powered battery from the Japanese automakers as recent disagreements have put research of the promising hydrogen-powered fuel cell on hold.
One can see where Paine is coming from, understanding the double-edged nature of conglomerates, as well as mentioning of George W. Bush staff members like Condolezza Rice being a former board member at Chevron and Andrew Card once a vice-president of GM. It's a brainier version of what comes across from Al Gore's starting multimedia presentation as this requiem of a smooth, emission-free dream looks to be charged by fear and addiction.