The Usual Suspects

Who Killed the Electric Car?

A documentary written and directed by Chris Paine,
narrated by Martin Sheen
.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

Here is a movie to make you good and angry. As the title
suggests, Chris Paine’s heartbreaking documentary takes the form of
a grand jury investigation. The cumulative impact, however, more
closely resembles tragedy than a whodunit. Looking back, future
historians, if there are any, may well see the eponymous inquiry as
part of a larger question: Who killed the Earth?

At issue, in a time when the direct relationship between fossil
fuel consumption and the precipitous rise in climate-destabilizing
greenhouse gases has been established beyond any honest scientific
debate, is why a quite viable, non-polluting alternative to the
internal combustion engine was not just allowed to wither and die
on the vine, but was actively and deliberately killed. After a
brief summary of the 100-year history of the electric car, Paine
takes up the story with the passage of California’s “Zero
Emissions” mandate of the early 1990s, and the wildly schizophrenic
response of the major U.S. automakers.

On one hand, their R&D people, their engineers, and their
manufacturing divisions worked miracles and brought out test models
in 1996 that won the hearts and minds not only of the idealistic
young vendors charged with promoting them, but with every person of
influence and fame who was persuaded to lease the cars for a term
of trial — people like Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks (not exactly raving
lefties). On the other hand, the top management of the car
companies, in consort with the petroleum industry, worked night and
day to gut the zero emission mandate, to suppress all positive
feedback, and ultimately, when they were able to buy off the
California regulators, to round up and destroy all of the lovely
electric vehicles they had made.

I am heartily sick of being patronized and lied to by the suits
and shills of polluters. But this film also introduces heroes like
California State Senator Alan Lowenthal and the adorable Chelsea
Sexton, who was hired to promote GM’s EV1 and is still promoting it
after they have all been destroyed. See this film.

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