27. July 2006
Who killed the electric car ?opens in London next week,
and EVguide has got this
from Matthew Trevaskis, Eco - Drive
The year is 1993: the California Air Resources Board mandates that an increasing number of new vehicles on the State's roads must be "zero-emission" to counter the smog and other air quality issues from vehicle exhaust that plagues their cities. Starting in 1998 with 2% this must increase to 10% of new registrations by 2003. The large manufacturers start developing highway-capable electric vehicles to enable them to continue selling other cars in the state. Other states including most of New England start to follow California's lead.
By 2003, the mandate has disappeared after a lawsuit by vested interests and virtually all the electric cars produced by the likes of General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Ford are destroyed or lying in "graveyards" in the Arizona desert. Who did KILL the electric car?
Laced with interviews with Hollywood celebrities, both A-list and not-so-well-knowns in the UK, industry bosses and disillusioned sales-people, "Who Killed The Electric Car?" is a US documentary directed by Chris Paine, released through Sony Pictures Classics, revealing how the vehicles that were produced attracted a devoted following amongst the high-profile drivers who were successful in their attempts to lease a vehicle, the sales executives and even the mechanics that worked on them, albeit rarely given their lack of required maintenance.
Many vehicles were never offered for sale since the manufacturers wanted to retain control over their destiny. Leases were not renewed despite pleas, publicity and celebrity-strewn roadside vigils outside dealerships and manufacturers' offices. Perfectly usable cars were reclaimed and crushed. The manufacturers claimed that no-one wanted them; the advocates claimed that there were waiting lists for too few cars.
The "prosecution's case" is presented for the car-buying public, the battery technology, the car manufacturers, Big Oil, the Bush Administration and advocates of alternative technologies such as Hydrogen Fuel Cells.
The car makers, car dealerships and the Bush Administration filed the lawsuit against CARB on the grounds that they were illegally setting targets for fuel economy. They won. Although some makers had finally succumbed to public demand and started selling rather than just leasing their electric vehicles, e.g. Toyota's RAV4, there was a rush to buy the last few unsold models as all the makers pulled the plug on electric cars.
Fuel Cell electric vehicles, according to a statement from Toyota which annoyed most other big players, are decades away from large scale production and hydrogen as a fuel uses far more energy overall than direct battery-electric cars. Hybrids promise increased fuel economy but ultimately still draw their power from fossil fuel.
Battery technology, always the Achilles heal of the electric car, enjoyed renewed investment during the 1990s, not just for electric vehicles, but for consumer goods. See how much smaller and lighter your mobile phone and laptop computer are now: the same technology now allows cars to travel many times further on a single charge and recharge in minutes.
So, who killed the electric car? It would seem that the car-buying public weren't anywhere near as culpable as the rest of the conspirators who resisted change to their intertwined and hugely profitable industries. But then, they always have: the mandating of emissions control and safety devices such catalytic converters and airbags to name but two have always faced opposition.
Is the electric car truly dead? It may be near-impossible to buy or lease an electric car in the US now, but it is set to become a lot easier in the UK with several new models of scooters and cars hitting the streets in the near future. Spurred on by Congestion Charge and parking exemptions, London is rapidly becoming the electric car capital of the world. These are notably city vehicles rather than the long-range, freeway cruisers that were available in the US, but nonetheless their contribution to cleaner air is much needed.
Shockingly, the same practice of scrapping perfectly good vehicles is happening in the UK right now. Peugeot is destroying dozens of electric vehicles that are full production models that were available to the public in France over the last 10 years. Only select fleet customers in the UK were allowed to use these models under strict lease terms that allowed Peugeot to reclaim vehicles for crushing at the end of the contract, after only a few thousand miles of use. These vehicles are easily capable of 75,000 miles on the original batteries! But no-one is waving placards and getting arrested in an effort to save these cars from a premature demise.
The film is a shocking indictment of the lengths to which the giants of car manufacture, oil production and supply and their cronies in the White House will go to suppress alternatives to fossil fuel usage.
"Who Killed The Electric Car?" opens in London on Friday 4th August at the Curzon Soho and the Ritzy Brixton and other theatres (Cornwall included) TBC. Contact ecodrive for more details.
matthew @ eco-drive.co.uk
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