Who Killed the Electric Car?
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Who Killed the Electric Car?

whokilledtheelectriccar.jpgWith gas prices at hellishly high levels and lobbyists calling for government intervention in Ontario to lower prices, it seems that there’s no better time for Who Killed the Electric Car?, an excellent documentary about the slow death of the EV1, General Motors’ electric car.
Quick backstory*: In 1990, The California Air Resources Board (CARB) targeted the source of California’s pollution problem: auto exhaust. CARB created the Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEV), which required 2% of new vehicles sold in California to be emission-free by 1998, 10% by 2003. With a jump on the competition thanks to its speed-record-breaking electric concept car, GM launched its EV1 electric vehicle in 1996. It required no gas, no oil changes, no mufflers, and rare brake maintenance. A typical maintenance checkup for the EV1 consisted of replenishing the windshield washer fluid and a tire rotation, nothing more. But the fanfare surrounding the EV1’s launch disappeared and the cars followed. Carmakers cited a lack of consumer demand, and, within 6 years, the entire EV1 fleet was gone.
It’s a fascinating and oft-ignored topic, and there are plenty of things to like about Who Killed the Electric Car?: It’s not preachy or overly environment-centric, and doesn’t guilt car owners. It tells its story as honestly as you could expect, with a ton of facts and no conspiracy theories (if connections aren’t based on irrefutable evidence, the movie doesn’t draw them). The blame for the death of the car is not attributed only to who you might think, either; it’s distributed around evenly, and even consumers don’t escape being marked as a guilty party. Electric Car also features tons of interviews with celebrity fans of the EV1: a creepily-bearded Mel Gibson! Tom Hanks (on Jay Leno)! Ted Danson! The guy who looks like the mayor from Spin City! And, last and least, an unfortunate narrator choice: Martin Sheen!
But the real strength of the movie is its heart. Who Killed The Electric Car? does such a good job making you fall in love with the car that when it is taken out of production by General Motors, it’s not just some corporate move to cut costs: it’s sad. Those who had the car genuinely loved it, and no amount of oil company corruption, government foolishness, or consumer idiocy is allowed to obscure that. When the EV1 is pulled off the market and out of the hands of the owners, for example, the car’s fans hold a funeral for it – a funeral that feels real. Making a movie-going audience care about the “death” of a machine is a remarkable feat, one that the documentary pulls off effortlessly.
By the end of the too-short 94 minutes of Who Killed The Electric Car?, you’ll probably want an EV1 too. In fact, the film might just be the best car ad ever. At the very least, it’s certainly the only car ad worth paying twelve bucks for.
Who Killed The Electric Car? opens in Toronto and Vancouver on July 14th. You can view the trailer or visit the website for more details. NOW Magazine is giving away some free passes to the movie, as well.
* Shamelessly lifted and condensed from the film’s press kit, of course.