The problem with a title like “Who Killed the Electric Car?” is that it’s a question warranting an answer no one can quite stomach. As we hear of skyrocketing gas prices and begin to see the long-touted effects of greenhouse emissions, the electric car is, to the average person, the perfect solution. No more depending on foreign nations or drilling three miles below the Gulf of Mexico for oil; no more catastrophic maritime spills, smog alerts or $80-a-barrel to feed an incessant addiction; just plug in the electric car, charge it up and go.

Steven Neff
Well, at least they went without any pain. (COURTESY OF SONY PICTURE CLASSICS)

You might think the electric car is technology of the future. Inexplicably, it’s already become technology of the past. “Who Killed the Electric Car?” follows the fall of the EV1, a revolutionary electric that General Motors introduced on a mysteriously hesitant basis in 1996. Efficient, stylish and exciting to drive, the car did not require a drop of gasoline. Those lucky few who managed to lease it (Tom Hanks, Ted Danson and sadly Mel Gibson among them) loved it so much that they inquired about making a full purchase when their leases expired.

But then they found out their sporty little coupes had been set up. GM didn’t really care about weaning the nation off of gas vehicles; it simply introduced the EV1 to comply with the California Air Resource Board’s requirements for small percentages of zero emission vehicles. By 2003 that requirement was dead, the victim of assassins acting on behalf of auto companies, the oil industry and the Bush Administration. The EV1s were rounded up and crushed into litter at GM’s private proving grounds in Arizona, the very spot where they had debuted a decade earlier.

“Who Killed the Electric Car?” excels in compelling the audience by its clear, unforgiving portrayal of all we have to lose or have already lost. While the EV1 was certainly important in its own right, this isn’t simply about the electric car. This is about our government failing to act in our best interests, catering instead to lobbyists.

With the murder of the EV1 – and understand that it was murder, pure, conniving and contrived – the film gets at the politically decrepit state of our society. We complain continuously about what is wrong (high gas prices) but are all too satisfied to have politicians just pretend to listen. They’re no longer held accountable; they flash ethanol or hydrogen fuel cells before us and we pay no attention as they quietly squash the very ‘improvements” they flaunt. Never mind that electrics were far more efficient, available and affordable than these other alternatives. It’s a classic case of divide and conquer – split up the environmentalist hippies into different camps and let them sing their kumbayas in their respective corners. If ever they were to unite in chorus, people might hear them, but that won’t happen.

On that note, though the film ultimately indicts the Bush Administration, auto companies, the oil industry and CARB, the real culprit has eluded us all once more. When a government does not act in the best interests of its people, when car companies tell us what to buy rather than build efficient vehicles and when big oil doesn’t simply lobby the government, but becomes a part of it, who is to blame?

Three and a half out of four stars

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