It was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It
ran on electricity, produced no emissions and catapulted American
technology to the forefront of the automotive industry. The lucky few
who drove it never wanted to give it up. So why did General Motors
crush its fleet of EV1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert?
Who Killed the Electric Car ? chronicles the life and mysterious
death of the GM EV1, examining its cultural and economic ripple
effects and how they reverberated through the halls of government
and big business.
The year is 1990. California is in a pollution crisis. Smog threatens
public health. Desperate for a solution, the California Air Resources
Board (CARB) targets the source of its problem: auto exhaust.
Inspired by a recent announcement from General Motors about an
electric vehicle prototype, the Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEV) is born.
It required 2% of new vehicles sold in California to be emission-free by
1998, 10% by 2003. It is the most radical smog-fighting mandate
since the catalytic converter.
With a jump on the competition thanks to its speed-record-breaking
electric concept car, GM launches its EV1 electric vehicle in 1996. It
was a revolutionary modern car, requiring no gas, no oil changes, no
mufflers, and rare brake maintenance (a billion-dollar industry unto
itself). A typical maintenance checkup for the EV1 consisted of
replenishing the windshield washer fluid and a tire rotation.
But the fanfare surrounding the EV1’s launch disappeared and the cars
followed. Was it lack of consumer demand as carmakers claimed, or
were other persuasive forces at work?
Fast forward to 6 years later... The fleet is gone. EV charging stations
dot the California landscape like tombstones, collecting dust and spider
webs. How could this happen? Did anyone bother to examine the
evidence? Yes, in fact, someone did. And it was murder.
The electric car threatened the status quo. The truth behind its demise
resembles the climactic outcome of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the
Orient Express: multiple suspects, each taking their turn with the
knife. Who Killed the Electric Car ? interviews and investigates
automakers, legislators, engineers, consumers and car enthusiasts
from Los Angeles to Detroit, to work through motives and alibis, and
to piece the complex puzzle together.
Who Killed the Electric Car ? is not just about the EV1. It’s about
how this allegory for failure - reflected in today’s oil prices and air
quality - can also be a shining symbol of society’s potential to better
itself and the world around it. While there’s plenty of outrage for lost
time, there’s also time for renewal as technology is reborn in Who Killed the Electric Car ?
(source: press kit from Sony Pictures Classics)