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Who Pulled the Plug on the Electric Car?

EV1 (6)
The Genereral Motors EV1, the first electric
car introduced in California in 1996.

Was electric all that impractical? A now classic documentary on why the electric car was doomed on American highways is getting more notice - as gas prices soar to over $4 a gallon. Did the oil companies really have a hand in the technology's demise?

In the 1990s oil was getting scarcer and the pollution produced by combustion engines was becoming recognized as a very serious problem.

Consumers began to demand some solutions that would save their world, their bank accounts and their breathing from gasoline's bad effects.

Around the world, there was rising concern about pollution, rising oil prices with reduced reserves and fear of the growing influence of international oil cartels.

In response, government officials, car company owners and researchers began looking at ways to revive and improve the old technology.

Could there be a way that cars powered by electricity could compete in the open market with their gas fueled cousins?

The U.S. Government Steps In
In 1995 the California Air Resources Board adopted the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate which made it vital for car manufacturers who wanted keep selling cars to come up with an emission free fuel source. In 1996 GM launched the EV1.

In the eight years it was on the market, hundreds of Californians became electric car drivers. Among the notables who appear in the film are EV owners Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Alexandra Paul and Peter Horton who are still driving their EVs and loving it.

Then, with an oil-friendly Bush administration in power, the CARB regulations were repealed. The EV1 was pulled and destroyed. About the same time Toyota killed the production of the RAV4 EV. The electric car was dead.

The Original Tesla Pierce-Arrow
The concept of a competitive electric car was not something new. A little research reveals that Tesla, who pioneered the use of electricity for power with Edison back in the late 1800s, had driven a modified 1931 Pierce-Arrow powered by electricity for long periods of time - and at speeds of up to 90mph, very fast in comparison to the driving speeds of the day.

In newspaper interviews he explained that the energy to run the car came "...from the ethers all around us." In 1931, this theory was considered demonic, delusional or a scam.

Tesla took his invention and went home in disgust. When he died, the secret died with him. He never revealed how his power source worked, but work it did!

Why Use Gas?
If it is possible to create an energy source that is clean and quiet, produces no pollution, is readily available, performs as well (or better) than a gas powered combustion engine and is free and unlimited — why are we still using oil and gas for power?

The film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is the story of the success and failure of the electric car of the 1990s. Major car manufacturers actually built and made electric cars available to the public - many of them are still being driven today. But then the process stopped.

Was there a conspiracy?
Were electric cars eliminated because of pressure by the car companies, oil companies and wealthy capitalists? Did the United States government and car companies cave under the internal and oil company pressure to preserve profits instead of our environment and our money?

Did a source of free, clean, renewable energy threaten the billions of dollars in profit that these companies earn each year? To many consumers, the answer to that seems obvious.

Electric cars run cheaply on a nonpolluting fuel source. The engine has little wear and tear because there aren't all those moving parts that the combustion engine needs - cars can last practically forever with no servicing. Cheap, clean and designed to last... who wouldn't want one?

Early Drawbacks to the Electric Car
The electric cars produced by the major car companies in the 1990s could run for about 50 - 120 miles before they need to be recharged. Even today's models need a charge after 200 miles. Those who have experienced their cell phone or laptop battery running out choice at the wrong moment know the frustration.

Sure, you can find somewhere to recharge, but you were stuck at the electrical outlet until the car was charged enough to get you back on the road.

The Need For Speed
The other drawback of the electric cars that were marketed in the '90s was that they were slow. Top speeds of around 40 - 60 mph, limited range and nowhere to refuel - would you buy one? Add to that the 'lease' instead of purchase option...

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" presents the car companies saying that they spent tons of money developing and producing electric car models and no one wanted one. They finally sold a few, but not enough to keep pouring money into production and advertising costs.

The movie does make it seem reasonable to accept a conspiracy theory between the big oil companies, the car companies and, yes, even the government. Yet making cars that no one will pay for was not a good business model. The death of the EV might have been a shame, but it made good business sense.

The Question the Movie Doesn't Ask
Why were the car companies were producing an EV that could only move at 40 mph for a hundred miles or so. If Tesla could drive a car powered by electricity at 90 mph with unlimited range in 1931, why couldn't that technology be reproduced in the mid 1990s?

Car company officials say the cars didn't sell...others say they weren't marketed to sell. It seems that neither of these were the real problem. What killed the electric car was a that it was never made to sell. This movie provides an interesting look at some real issues, but doesn't address the car industry's biggest failure.

About The Author... Editorial Team

More about electric cars around the Web:

IMDb - Who Killed The Electric Car

Rotten Tomatoes - Who Killed The Electric Car

Made How - Electric Automobile

also see in Science -> Global Warming

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