24 September 2012

Video Reflection: Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) Directed by Chris Paine is an insight into what happened to the electric car. After studies in 1989 found that 1 in 4 15-24 year olds living in Los Angeles had severe lung lesions and chronic raspatory disease, the Californian government had the insight in 1990 to create the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEM) mandate stating that by 2008, 10% of new cars sold had to be electric. This then forced the car manufacturers to create electric cars. Despite the manufacturers resistance, they were mostly successful. The deeper issues here are the reluctance of the manufacturers to create products that require little servicing, need no oil changes, and have no need to regularly refuel on petrol.

This war on the electric car was about money. Making energy efficient cars that had no reliance on fossil fuels removed the need for big corporations. Poor tactics were used such as buying controlling shares in the battery company then preventing the battery creator from talking to the press about how great his batteries were. They used inferior batteries in the initial cars, even though superior battery technology was readily available. The cars were only available to lease, not to buy. Preventing any long-term ownership of the cars, and allowing the car manufacturers to repossess the electric cars whenever they pleased. Interested parties were informed of the many limitations of the cars when they inquired about leasing. Which as Chelsea Sexton states, “if you really want to sell a product, you don’t start out by listing the limitations of that product”. The advertisements created for these electric cars were haunting and eerie, not your typical car advertisement with a fast car and a pretty woman displayed on the bonnet.

Consumer groups started lobbying against the small tax increases used to build charging stations around the city of Los Angeles. Further investigation into these consumer groups, revealed that they were funded by oil companies. The Californian government had created a mandate to force car manufacturers to build electric cars but soon realised they had no way to enforce it. Pressure from the Bush administration to change the mandate and eventual legal action forced the Californian government to amend the mandate and provide a clause stating that the car companies need only comply, if there was a great consumer push for electric cars.

The documentary itself lists the factors to be blamed for the demise of the electric car. These are: the car companies, oil companies, California Air Resources Board, consumers, the government and the promise of hydrogen fuel cells, which would never eventuate.

What is utterly frightening about this documentary is the revelation of how the combined forces of the US federal government, the car manufacturers and the oil companies persuaded the consumers that electric cars are not the way of the future. Substantial tax rebates were offered to those who purchased the large SUV GM’s Hummer. Those they did not persuade, they simply reclaimed the cars and destroyed them. Leaving no trace, only memories of what once was, and what the world could have been.

A follow up documentary titled “Revenge of the Electric Car” was released in 2011.

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