The song of the “Stonecutters” from an episode of The Simpsons reminds us that electric cars and conspiracy theories go together in the popular imagination like CO2 emissions and global warming. Chris Paine’s documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? rather disarmingly plays up to the stereotype by treating the demise of this particular electric car, GM’s EV1, as a murder mystery. For the film makes it clear that we are dealing with a murder rather than a natural death. Beginning with a mock funeral for the car in a Hollywood cemetery with environmentally- conscious movie stars delivering the eulogies, Mr. Paine ticks off the suspects. The only one to be completely exonerated is the car itself, or at least its battery, which was initially somewhat inadequate.
Blame is shared among a number of other suspects, including consumers, car companies, oil companies and the state of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), which mandated the construction of electric cars in the first place in 1990 only to rescind its own mandate in 2003. But the car companies, especially GM, come in for the biggest share of blame. The film makes much of GM’s deviousness in leasing rather than selling the EV1 so that, when the CARB and its director, Alan C. Lloyd, lifted the state mandate, it could make sure they were all taken off the road and, literally, shredded. So there isn’t much mystery about the who. GM killed its own product. What makes for the mystery in the eyes of Chris Paine and such stellar advocates of the EV1 as Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Peter Horton and Ed Begley Jr. — not to mention that veteran supporter of left-wing causes, Martin Sheen, who narrates — is why GM would have wanted to destroy what they regard as such a terrific product.
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