July 27th: Greaseless Lightening


154. Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2006)

Who killed the what? Electrickery in a car? Surely this is a kind of madness?

It would seem that it isn’t any kind of madness, Chris Paine’s documentary is desperate to point out that the most sensible thing any of us could do is to own an electric car. We’re introduced to the rich history of putting sparky juice in cars, a history that stretches back as far as the infernal combustion engine. But the electric car has been a distant second place to its carbon emitting brother for its whole existence. What the documentary really charts is the efforts of the major automotive industry to expand into electric vehicles during the mid 90s and their, seemingly inexplicable, desire to shut the whole thing down a decade later.

Who Killed the Electric Car is one of a number of ‘Eco-docs’ that have emerged in recent years, this is one of the more intriguing stories though. Unlike the efforts of The 11th Hour and An Inconvenient Truth this isn’t a global threat story, it concentrates on the kind of corporate shenanigans that would greatly intrigue Joel Bakan (author of The Corporation and writer of the film adaptation too), Michael Moore or Mark Thomas. The likes of General Motors and Toyota offered electric cars on a lease in California, you charged them overnight in your garage and they had a range of about 100/120 miles before they needed recharging. Great for a commute or a city runabout said Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and the pantheon of celebrities who stepped onboard. Why then, scant years later, did the companies take back the cars? Why did they recall these cars and what did they do with them? That’s the intrigue and it’s unlikely that these car companies banked on the determination of California’s hand wringing, liberal, tree hugging hipsters to find out what was going on. So who did it? Who killed the latest incarnation of the Electric Car? Round up the usual suspects in an Eco-Doc – Big Oil, Big Business and the Government. They all come in for a volley of criticism but perhaps the most surprising target is the emergence of the Hydrogen fuel cell. If we’re many years off having streets full of Hydrogen cell fuelled cars why not have electrics in the interim? It’s an intriguing question from a thought provoking film.

How good am I? I’ve found that this is another film you can watch for free via the magic of YouTube, and it’s all legal too! – CLICK HERE. 

1 thought on “July 27th: Greaseless Lightening”

  1. The problems with electric cars come from the amount of power needed to charge their batteries quickly enough, otherwise leaving it to wait becomes restrictive – essentially negating the reason for having your own car. Overnight is okay if you can wait that long, but it’s not exactly convenient if you want to nip out somewhere.
    The majority don’t have a great range either, 100-120 miles you’ve quoted must be the very best ones, because a lot go for about 40-60 miles before they conk out.
    The ones that make themselves even remotely close to decent value, after taking the above into account (i.e. excluding cars like the Tesla that was shown on Top Gear at the end of last year), also suffer from a miserable lack of performance.
    Add to the fact that the hydrogen fuel cell ones are vastly superior, why would anyone spend money to develop a far inferior product that is doomed to be out-of-date within the next 20 years?
    Plus, on a personal note, where’s the fun? The internal combustion engine is one of the best inventions ever, and the varieties of sound and performance make it all the more interesting, not to mention the fun that can be had tinkering, customising, changing, etc. Who wants to go to a silent motor race?
    Electric, schmelectric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *