Making the Grades
Every crime needs a perpetrator-- someone who pulled the trigger, or in this case, pulled the plug. In his documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?, first time director Chris Paine is on the hunt for the executioners he believes are behind the untimely death of the electric vehicle or EV.
The lineup of suspects he amasses includes the federal government, major oil companies, hesitant consumers, the California Air Resources Board (led at the time by Alan O. Lloyd) and even the big car manufacturers themselves. Hardly anyone comes away with clean hands in this zealous plea for the reinstatement of these autos.
Paine's cast of advocates includes Hollywood actors such as Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Phyllis Diller and Peter Horton who were early supporters of the EV movement. He also introduces Chelsea Sexton, a one-time GM employee assigned to promote the electric cars and then fired when the company recalled them. She now serves as an activist in the EV debate.
The story takes place almost entirely in California where the pollution crisis reached staggering levels in the 1990s and caused the initial introduction of dramatic initiatives to reduce the amount of car emissions. Now the proposals have been panned and the electric recharging stations built to support the new wave of automobiles have become tombstone-like reminders of a brief attempt to introduce an alternative to oil dependent transportation.
The demise of a seemingly ideal option for cleaner cars appears questionable when soaring gas prices, unrest in the Middle East, rising smog levels and the increase of related health issues all indicate a need for different fuel sources. Unfortunately Paine's passion for electric vehicles leaves his film fatally biased and at times bordering on boring as he rehashes his claims against the parties he deems guilty.
However, if his production generates a more comprehensive discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of alternative fuels, the death of the electric vehicle won't be in vain. Maybe like the great Phoenix of antiquity, it will even rise again.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Who Killed the Electric Car?.
What advantages do electric vehicles have over regular combustion engines? What kind of infrastructure is needed to support this new technology? What are the disadvantages of this car?
Do car batteries have a limited life and if so, how are they disposed of? How much additional electricity would be needed and what impact would that have on the environment?
What are the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells? What are the overall costs of producing them? How viable do you think this form of alternate energy is for the average consumer?
The concept of electric cars is not new. For a brief history on this type of transportation check out the information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_electric_vehicle .
Stan Ovshinsky and his wife Iris work side by side in their scientific endeavors. To learn more about this couple and their work, follow this link: http://www.pbs.org/saf/1403/features/ovshinsky.htm
Finally, check this link (http://www.gm.com/company/onlygm/fastlane_Blog.html#EV1) to read a GM official’s comments about EVs and this movie.