Who Killed the Electric Car?

Due to a series of unfortunate events beyond my control, I was forced to rent a car for the weekend. It’s something I’ve never actually done before, something I always think of other people doing. But here I am driving around my compact beige car, feeling responsible for it. It’s like a two ton albatross that needs constant feeding, planning, and attention, because I’m not used to having a car around.

Dropping M off earlier, I tried to turn the headlights on and succeeded in activating the hazard lights, windshield wipers, air conditions, and horn before I managed to find the actual control for the headlights, and then they were stuck on bright until I realized that the wand had gotten wedged in place. This car also has one of the most bizzare shifters, for an automatic, that I’ve ever seen. I mean I don’t know, the car has around 20k miles on it, so maybe these shifters are all the rage. But to me it seems suspiciously like a wannabe manual transmission.

So it seems oddly appropriate that we went to see Who Killed the Electric Car?. I have in fact only just returned, and while I’m burning cds to take on my car trip tomorrow, I thought I’d muse on the film for a moment.

The first thing I’ll say about it is that you all should go. The film disabused me of some major misinformation I had been carrying around about electric cars. Yes, parts were cheesy and a little over the top with the dramatics. But the film was solid. There was good information in there, along with some shocking facts. (Although I would have appreciated it if the film makers had cited their info: for example, they claimed that GM profits doubled between 2003 and 2005. Now, this information is probably pretty easy to track down because GM is a publicly traded company…but I wouldn’t mind seeing a source cited, anyhow.) It was well edited, and narrated a compulsive and fascinating story.

The film was about the variety of factors that led to the demise of the electric car, although it focused on California and on the EV1, a GM vehicle that looks pretty damn sexy to me. Well…looked, because they’re all destroyed now. Which is a pity, because now I really want one. Hear that, GM? It should be noted, with interest, that GM sought out and recalled all EV1s for destruction–the only time, to my knowledge, that an automaker has willfully destroyed every single example of a vehicle formerly in production. Apparently there are a few hidden here and there, in automotive museums (disabled, of course). That’s intense.

At any rate, here are some things I learned about electric cars:

  • Electric cars are not futuristic technology. They are actually quite solid now, thanks to advances in battery and drive shaft engineering. Electric isn’t a fantasy, it’s reality.
  • Electric cars can have a range of up to 300 miles. And not through complex developments, either. Batteries now are extremely good, often outlasting the car. The idea that electrics only have a range of 40 miles or so, while popular, is wrong. I wonder who encourages that fiction?
  • Electric cars are fast, and fully able of competing with their gasoline powered counterparts. It’s not just Tesla Motors that makes fast, efficient electric cars–pretty much anyone can, now.
  • Remember how California was supposed to slowly convert to electric cars, building up to 10% by this year? Yeah, that was totally doable, and totally killed by the automotive industries and big oil.

So who killed the electric car?

A lot of people, according to the film. Primarily, big oil and the car companies, in a lot of ways. Big oil has a vested interest in us using gasoline powered vehicles with low efficiency rates. Car companies have a vested interest in selling us vehicles which require high cost tune ups and supplies. Regulatory agencies and the governments cave to these lobbying forces, rather than consumer demand.

And there’s a lot of consumer demand.

I also don’t think the electric car has to die. Understanding the abilities of the electric car better, as I do know, allows me to get excited and fired up about electric vehicle technology. I mean, sure, I wish I could afford a Tesla…but I’ll settle for converting a traditional internal combustion vehicle, for now. Electric really is better. Yes, to some extent you have a “longer tailpipe,” passing emissions down the line…but you don’t have to. You could seek wind, solar, and wave energy to power your vehicle, for example. And then you could have an efficient, fast, sexy car which is also good for the environment. And that’s damn skippy, I say.

[Who Killed the Electric Car?]