Who Killed the Electric Car?

This documentary deals with the history of the electric car, its development and commercialization, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board passed the ZEV mandate in 1990, as well as the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics, and global warming.

The film details the California Air Resources Board’s reversal of the mandate after suits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the George W. Bush administration. It points out that Bush’s chief influences, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card, are all former executives and board members of oil and auto companies.

A large part of the film accounts for GM’s efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed; GM never responded to the EV drivers’ offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed). Several activists are shown being arrested in the protest that attempted to block the GM car carriers taking the remaining EV1s off to be crushed.
The film explores some of the reasons that the auto and oil industries worked to kill off the electric car. Wally Rippel is shown explaining that the oil companies were afraid of losing out on trillions in potential profit from their transportation fuel monopoly over the coming decades, while the auto companies were afraid of losses over the next six months of EV production. Others explained the killing differently. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss argued it was lack of consumer interest due to the maximum range of 80–100 miles per charge, and the relatively high price.

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  • Michael

    I saw this program recently on Canadian TV and have to wonder who the monkeys are running the board of GM. Talk about missing the boat! It’s no wonder they’ve nearly gone out of business.

    As they continued to charge blindly ahead with larger and larger vehicles, ignoring pollution concerns, gas price increases and following nothing but profit, I liken it to dinosaurs roaming the earth right before extinction.

    At least it might have been easier to take if GM had only told the truth instead of making up moronic excuses. It was the Edsel moment of recent times. I mean, to actually destroy every single copy of the car, at great expense, taking them from drivers who thought they were totally fantastic… I just think we’d be better off if GM went away and let newer thinking people pick up the torch!

    Definitely worth watching (unless you’re on the board of GM of course;)

    • mike

      GM shot themselfs in the foot really, by resisting the change they’ve fallen behind there competition! competition is the fear and downfall of any monopoly.

    • mike

      if they had kept developing the technology they would’ve been well ahead of there competition

  • Alan

    min 4:47 “19 pounds of carbon dioxide released into the air regardless of the car type”? A gallon of gas doesn’t weight but about 6 pounds. What kind of math is that?

    • Johnny

      It’s atomic math and involves the addition of the oxygen that is taken in by an engine as well which actually accounts for most of the weight difference.

      1 gallon of gasoline is roughly 6.3 pounds, of that about 87%(5.5 pounds) is carbon and the other 13% is hydrogen.

      When gasoline is burned it separates the carbon and hydrogen, the hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water(H20) and the carbon combines with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide(CO2).

      The atomic math comes in to play with the weight of a carbon atom being 12 and the weight of an oxygen atom being 16.

      Since CO2 is two parts oxygen to one part carbon that means each CO2 molecule has an atomic weight of 44(16×2+12).

      So by dividing the CO2 molecule’s weight(44) by the carbon weight(12) that existed initially pre-combustion we get approximately 3.7.

      So each CO2 molecule will be 3.7 times heavier than the carbon atom it started out as in that 1 gallon of gasoline.

      3.7 x 5.5 lb’s(carbon in the gas) = 20 pounds of CO2 approximately.

      Hopefully that makes sense, it’s really quite simple math when it’s broken down properly.

      • Guest

        Pity you don’t use metric units .. this is the 21st century

      • harry.e.w

        beautifully explained

    • John Kerr

      Alas, the math is correct.  As the carbon-hydrogen bonds of gasoline break during its reaction with oxygen, new carbon-oxygen bonds forms (making co2).  The extra “weight” is coming from the oxygen (which is a 2 to 1 ratio to the carbon).  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline for more of the same.  Cheers.

  • Johnny

    Note: my above post is in no way, shape or form a supportive statement for Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    Yes 1 gallon of gasoline produces roughly 20 lb’s of CO2 but that is a minuscule number in the big picture of CO2 levels in our atmosphere, and we have these things called plants that being composed mostly of carbon absorb the CO2 and break it down taking in the carbon as a natural fertilizer and releasing the pure oxygen.

    Of course while everyone is focused primarily on AGW the industrial/commercial clear cutting of large portions of forests is still occurring all over the world, reducing the amount of CO2.

    • Guest

      Why use such antiquated units?

  • Johnny

    * reducing the amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere.

    Hit the wrong button and posted too soon, sorry.

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  • Jacques Paulsen

    If that evangelical who asked the question would have gone to college, he could have figured it out himself. I wonder if he knows there is 3000 pounds per square inch air in a scuba tank, 2250 if the tank is made of steel. That will probably leave him scratching his head for awhile. Go to college and sign up for physics, math, biology, chemistry and engineering classes and you’ll learn things that aren’t in that 2,000 year old book you hold in highest esteem.

    • JackCool

      In fact now all top science is looking into paradigm of conciousness and particle / wave atom state and that is in line with 2000 years old book AND NOT AGAINST IT.
      It is that simple mr smart. Here is link for you, so avoid college and avoid being mislead :)


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  • Hyungnam Gu

    In the early 90s General Motors began developing the EV1, an electric car. When the the California Air Research Board (C.A.R.B.) found out about it they put a law in place forcing car companies to make 5% of their cars electric. This would gradually be raised up to 25% over many years. All companies followed GM’s lead. Ford released the Th!nk and other companies, including Toyota, released electric cars as well. The EV1 became mildly popular, with celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson leasing them. They began to get a waiting list for the car. GM would then contact those on the list and tell them all of the limitations of the cars, something most retailers and car manufacturers would never do. And after a strainful wait, they got to lease the car; there was no option to buy it outright. The advertising campaign was small and less than great. A petition, initiated because a section of utility bills were going to pay for Charging Stations, was being made by Oil Companies. Strangely enough, General Motors and several other companies sued C.A.R.B. for making the law forcing them to make the cars they already were making. Llyod president of the C.A.R.B., an environmentalist, took away the law citing Hydrogen fuel as the way of the future. All companies began viciously destroying all the electric cars they built and not letting any of their customers buy them. All the EV1’s were destroyed by General Motors except for several which were deactivated and sent to museums.

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