The 2006 documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that was directed by Chris Paine explores the manufacture, limited commercialization, and the later obliteration of the electric vehicle in the U.S. This film specifically investigates the manufacture of the General Motors EV1during the mid-1990s. The documentary takes an in-depth look at the role played by the United States government, the oil industry, automobile manufacturers, consumers, batteries, hydrogen vehicles and the California government in restricting the development of take up of the electric vehicle technology. It integrates interviews from various stakeholders such as actors, directors and politicians. Interviews have enabled the producer to put into perspective the various issues that the movie is propagating and how they influenced the realization of mass production of the electric car.
The film analyses the history behind the electric vehicle, its development, and consequent commercialization. It tried to evaluate the various stakeholders involved in the adoption of the electric car, and the reasons that eventually led to its failure. As much as the film does not point fingers directly, it provides an insightful platform for considering the issue of environmental conservation in light of increasing pollution from petroleum-based engines. The General Motors EV1 was available for leasing mostly in Southern California following the passing of the 1990 Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate by the California Air Resource Board, or CARB.
The documentary addresses an array of issues and events that circumnavigate the development of the electric car and the final abandonment of the course. Some of the issues that stand out in the documentary include its commercialization, development and its emission levels. Initially, the electric car was viewed as a noble idea. Accordingly, they produced over five thousand electric vehicles. The California Air Resource board (CARB) had sanctioned the production of the above electric automobile, which would have eventually paved way for its commercialization (Russian Online Channel). However, the ideas never saw the light of the day and CARB reviewed its earlier decision to allow production. This was the culmination of pressure by lobbyists, politicians, and the oil sector. The documentary explores the fear created around the concept, the political under workings and peoples’ efforts to protect the innovation. The oil industry was afraid that there would be a fall in the demand for their products. Similarly, the car-manufacturing sector feared that the initial cost would be higher reducing the profitability of the entity. Nonetheless, the improvement in profitability would take a while before mass production began. The film also shows the activists who campaign for the reinstatement of the electric cars. The film provides an informative piece, which also reveals the difference that existed between various stakeholders in the automobile industry. Overall, the plot is in line with the aim of the producer to tell the story on the fate of the electric car.
One of the film aspects, which stands out, includes the use of interviews. Owing to the nature of the film, an informative documentary, interviews provided a way to elaborate the events that occurred leading to the current fate of the electric car and the relevant facts. One of the interviews involved Mel Gibson who drove an electric car. Their interview provides an insight to the viewers of what it is like to drive such a car while highlighting its pros and key weaknesses. The interviews assist the director to maintain the core agenda of the film, which is to provide relevant details. Some of the interviews were recorded prior to the filming of the documentary. In the interviews conducted during the filming of the movie, there was adequate lighting, which improved the quality of the images (Reardon 1). Interviewees included politicians such as Nader, Gaffney and Lloyd who provided the political and corporate twist to the fate of the electric car. Their interviews are well lit and lengthy to enable elaborate insight into the underlying issues. Chris Paine, the director, focused on providing an informative film. As such, a narrator propagates the story line or ideas and facts in the film (Reardon 1). The film also uses picture to enhance the message in the movie or the role of various stakeholders in the energy sector, in the death of the electric car. A picture of oil tanks and drilling machine reveals that the petroleum sector played a vital role in the stoppage of the production of the electric car. The funeral procession of the EVI model is symbolic as it highlights the sad fate of a noble idea. This fate is enforced further by footage of a scrap yard of crushed electric cars and the secrecy, which shrouded the disposal of the vehicles. Since some of the interviews were collected from various sources, it was difficult to alter the lighting. However, the director could only regulate the lighting in the interviews that were shot during the film’s production.
Editing or Sound
The film requires considerable editing to integrate the numerous interviews in it. The director had to play the right interviews at the appropriate time so that the ideas and facts have an appropriate flow and a stinging impact. Some of the interviews are cut and later continued as the film progresses to give the film an appropriate sequence. The movie also makes proper use of sound to give the film the appropriate tone or emotions. As the movie begins, there is a procession to the Hollywood cemetery. The music played by the band enables the director to cultivate the solemn mood of the film since selfish interests in the oil and automotive ideas disposed a noble idea (Russian Online Channel). The varying camera angles highlight various effects of the combustive gases. For instance, there is filming from above the skyscrapers, to reveal the fog. Additionally, the camera angle also changes to reveal the speed that the electric cars can achieve. There are constant cuts in interviews to integrate the views of various people, which are sworn together by the narrator. The narrator also uses questions in his narrative to engage viewers. The question reveals the sham reasons behind the resistance. As the Californian authorities make the decision on the fate of the electric cars, there is silence and the events are played in slow motion, which emphasizes the importance of their decision with regard to the future of the electric car. By doing so, the film also apportions blame and show that politicians bear the most responsibility with regard to termination of production of electric cars by automobile companies.
Link between the Two Episodes
The first episode provides the historical background of the car. Furthermore, it details the interplay of politics and corporate ambitions. The subsequent episode provides further explanation on the role of the automotive companies in the death of the electric car. According to the film, the oil industry and automobile sector had archaic ideas with regard to the electric car, which betrayed the American spirit. It also brings in the input of the ordinary people, which put into question the reasons behind the abandonment of production of the electric car (Reardon 1).
3 Reviews from Professional Critics
“Who Killed the Electric Car?': Some Big Reasons the Electric Car Can't Cross the Road” from the New York times, is written by Manohla Dargis. He argues in the article that the main reason the electric car got pushed off the road is because of the oil companies and the government policies. In the article, he wrote “Henry Ford and cheap oil helped keep electric cars off the road, leaving the fast-growing highway system to the spewing, sputtering internal-combustion engine.” The article also focused on the perspective of the government side and supported its claim with the interview of the director of the film, Chris Paine. In the article, Dargies wrote, “What happened next, Mr. Paine explains, is a familiar story of corporate greed and governmental corruption, mixed in with flickers of idealism and outrage.”
The second article “Who Killed the Electric Cars” from the Slant Magazine is written by Nick Shager. One interesting feature I found is that, both Shager and Dargies mentioned “An Inconvenient Truth” in their articles. Shager’s review is much more straightforward and he uses lots of parenthesis after a statement to support his claims. “Unsurprisingly, it's a rather long list of culprits, from oil companies (who saw the technology as a potentially lethal competitor) and the federal government (unwilling to break ranks with their automotive industry bedfellows) to the competing Hydrogen Fuel Cell (which remains decades away from being a practical alternative to gasoline) and general consumer indifference.”
The third review comes from Jim Emerson. Different from the other two reviews, this one focuses on the company General Motor, who made a quite successful vehicle, the EV1. Emerson blames the death of electric cars on GM, because he thinks GM is risking the future of our future to try to get more profit for themselves. He wrote, “ There was simply too much easy money remaining to be made from old technology and the remaining trillion gallons of crude oil beneath the Earth's crust”, “GM deserves a quick and merciless death. It's come to this: What's bad for GM is good for America!”
The three essays all claim that carmakers and oil industries are held responsible for the “murder” of the electric cars.
Criticism from 3 Peer-reviewed Journals
The ZEV mandate the seven automakers in the United States to provide electric vehicles so that they could continue selling their gasoline powered models in California. Close to five thousand vehicles were designed and produced by the major automakers, which included Chrysler, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Honda, and Nissan, and later smashed or donated to educational institutions and museums. The documentary also discussed the repercussions of the events associated with the reliance on oil, pollution, middle east politics, and global warming. The documentary convincingly argued that the devoted market for the eclectic cars indeed existed but that General Motors, in conjunction with the oil industry, smashed the EV1 since it threatened the activities and trade of the entire automobile industry (Rosen 362).
The EV1 did not use any gasoline, mufflers, or oil and only required intermittent brake maintenance. Every of these components represented profits for the industry that ran into billions of dollars. General Motors, various government agencies, and the oil industry contended that the car was impractical, and less promising compared to the hydrogen technology and did not have adequate range for the consumers (Paterson 256). However, the reality was quite the opposite. The film suggested that the feasibility for the use of hydrogen in powering automobiles was almost comically upbeat. Paul MacCready, an aviation expert, designed the ultra-quiet EV1. MacCready’s focus was on the creation of vehicles that required little energy to operate and not in finding means of increasing the power of inefficient systems. His endeavor in the production of the battery-powered EV1 was a significant achievement in engineering. Paine systematically puts his point across using an onslaught of compelling statistics regarding the consumption of fossil fuels and a parade of prominent EV1 devotees such as Peter Horton, Mel Gibson, and Phyllis Diller (Kirsch 424). Like its counterpart “An Inconvenient Truth,” this documentary delivers cinematic advocacy of an eco-friendly kind, charting the preliminary victory, eventual failure, and grassroots attempts to restore the titular battery powered EV1. Structured as an investigative documentary, this film slowly moves along a list of culprits in the destruction of the electric car, detailing a blend of influences and forces that led to the disappearance of the electric vehicle only a few years after its introduction.
Since the introduction of the electric car in California by General Motors through it EV1 model as a way of complying with the ZEV mandate, the most preposterous parties turned out to be the automobile manufactures themselves. These entities created non-viable cars and then spent extraordinary time, energy, and resources in attempting to smother their own inventions. Even though the arguments provided in the documentary seem meticulously researched (a fact that is evident both from the enlightening on-screen information, as well as the production notes), Paine’s film does not become unfavorably overwhelmed by unmanageable talk regarding CAFÉ standards. It focuses on the outrage of engineers and celebrity owners.
Relatively biased, this documentary film is affected most by its trite endeavor to humanize the electric vehicle, including an asinine mock funeral held by clamorous supporters and the sad visit by former General Motors employees to a car museum to view one of the company’s “babies” (Kirsch 424). Such overindulgent sappiness, however, cannot obfuscate the inescapable feeling left by the documentary that with respect to buck passing regarding the prevalence of inefficient cars on American roads, every stakeholder was partially to blame, including the citizens. The past few years have witnessed the development of a theory that hinged on the idea that oil companies, in conjunction with automakers conspired with one another in the mid-1990s, to destroy the electric car; as a result, the entire humanity has been relegated to environmental doom.
While the environmental concern from such claims may be genuine, the remainder of the theory does not hold up upon closer examination. Honda Motors and Toyota Motors both developed electric vehicles in the 1990s. At the time, the economy of Japan was stuck in depression and the government, apprehensive of competition from neighboring Asian tigers, endeavored hard to find a salable export. Instead of collaborating with the government, as had been the case in the past, the two giant Japanese automakers colluded with their rivals such as Ford and GM, to assist oil companies. This conspiracy had the car manufactures, led by General Motors, to flaunt reasons why the electric vehicle had no market. Among the reasons offered for lack of a market was the vehicle’s inadequate mileage range per charge. Consequently, GM recalled all of its EV1.
The theory, as offered by this documentary, has some inherent inconsistencies. Toyota overtook General Motors as the world’s largest automaker because of its production of the Prius model, which is a hybrid model. To believe the conspiracy as elaborated by Paine, one would imagine that Toyota’s Prius was just a disguise to mask the real debate. This is, however, not the case. Statistics indicate that the sales of the electric cars were not impressive (Rosen 363). The customers had a lot of curiosity in the cars, but very few purchased them. The Rav4 EV had a range of 100 miles per charge, which was not adequate for most customers. In addition, the batteries used in the electric cars were not only difficult to manufacture but costly too.
The film evaluates the circumstances surrounding the termination of the production of electric cars. The film is a collection of numerous interviews from owners, General Motors employees, politicians and activists. The film alters the camera angle to emphasize its ideas such as the environmental impacts of gaseous emissions from the automobiles. The film provides a critical insight into the factors that lead to the death of an idea. Most consumers prefer affordable cars and do not desire to be troubled by a car that will stall before they reach their destination. The film has several weaknesses, which are mostly centered on issues of pollution from burning fossil fuels by the automobile engine. It is reasonable to claim that the film neglects to mention that electricity has to be generated to power electric cars. The United States generated a good portion of its electricity through the burning of coal. This means that electric cars are indirect polluters. While the makers of this documentary contend that electric vehicles are efficient compared to gasoline-powered engines, they do not offer any proof to bolster their claim.