Who Killed the Electric Car?

With a share of General Motors running just a bit above the price of a single Hot Wheels car, this seems like an opportune time to catch-up with this surprisingly upbeat 2006 documentary covering perhaps the worst single piece of corporate strategy in business history. Directed by first-timer Chris Paine, with assists from big-time executive producer Dean Devlin and super-documentarian Alex Gibney, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” starts off as an earnest, L.A.-centric, paean to the efforts of activist drivers to fight GM’s very literal trashing of the all-electric EV-1 — launched in 1996 on a lease-only arrangement after California emissions rules forced auto companies to explore non-polluting vehicles. After spending time with such once-satisfied EV-1 customers as actors Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Peter Horton, Alexandra Paul, and comedienne Phyllis Diller, the film switches gears to becomes a far more interesting industrial whodunit, examining the corporate and the political forces that led to the car’s passive-aggressive treatment by GM.

Conservatives will likely be irked that the Bush Administration and the oil companies figure prominently as suspects, and will also note that the film is narrated by well-known lefty Martin Sheen. Nevertheless, Paine’s film takes a healthily bipartisan approach and includes neoconservatives James Woolsey and Franklin Gaffney making the national security case for electric autos. The very bad news is that the resistance of GM to its own best technology may have played a huge roll in the near destruction of the company and, along with it, the U.S. and world economy. On the other hand, the electric car may be due for a resurrection – director Chris Paine is working on a sequel.

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