The Movie Buffer

Monday, January 08, 2007

DVD review: Who Killed The Electric Car?


This review is a powered by a low spoiler engine


Who Killed the Electric Car? is a critically acclaimed but poorly received documentary about the conception, life and death of General Motors(GM) electric vehicle program (which produced the car known as the EV1) that took place in the early 90s. With the oil prices soaring, the auto industry promoting larger, less efficient trucks/SUVs and a general public that is becoming more environmentally conscious, this movie points out that a fully electric vehicle is not the fevered dream of a madman, but a viable solution to these problems.

Rookie director, Chris Paine, casts light on several key players that lead to the eventual demise of the electric car, from consumer to automaker, from hydrogen fuel cell researchers to oil company executives. Though highly critical of what big business did to the EV1, this film is not just a rant. He shows that the advances that the EV1 made helped fuel the imaginations of some smaller engineering firms, which now retrofit older and current model cars with “plug in” hybrid systems(gas/electric engines that you plug in at home to charge) or convert them to fully electric vehicles.

The film’s style is of the “talking head” variety, in which interviews with former employees of GM, celebrities and regular folks that owned the EV1, and industry insiders make up the bulk of the film. Some of the celebrities that get some face time and lend their support are: Tom Hanks, Phyllis Diller, Mel Gibson, Alexandra Paul, Martin Sheen, among many others. The dialogue doesn’t get bogged down with any technical jargon or otherwise, the film moves along at a decent pace and if you haven’t heard of the EV1 project then this is a great introduction how it got started.

When the film renders it’s verdict on who has killed the electric car, it pays close attention to the consumer. The director, the auto industry executives and the engineers all blame the buying public as the largest contributor to the demise of the project. Even though the engineers stated that this particular car cannot operate in below zero conditions (which cuts a least half the American market), GM only produced approx. 1200 of the vehicles and after the cars were returned the owners were willing to donate nearly 2 million dollars to keep the project going.

The film's message comes through loud and clear and gets rather preachy by the end of the picture but it’s well worth watching. Though I don’t agree that the consumer is the main reason that the electric car died, I think it’s our duty to understand the issue and take reasonable steps to solve the problem. It took laws to get seat belts in cars, it took laws to regulate emissions, so it will require laws to get auto manufacturers to produce an electric alternative to the internal combustion engine. This was an interesting movie with that was expertly constructed, though it gets preachy, it ranks a 6/10 or a two and a half stars out of five.


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