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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