In the first half of the feature, he presents us with a series of semi-famous talking heads including but not limited to five-time Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, battery engineer Wally Rippel and character actor turned sustainability advocate Ed Begley, Jr.
, all discussing the brief birth and adoption of the battery electric automobile and its subsequent ‘death,’ focusing primarily on the General Motors EV1.The end of the electric car culminates in the reacquisition of all leased EVs, their subsequent disassembly and a dramatic protest funeral organized by former EV1 owners. In the second half of feature, Paine begins to ask the question of who is to blame for the electric car’s ‘death’. The initial hypothesis presented is that the electric car’s death was largely a market failure born on technological limitations and consumer ambivalence.Dan Neill states that “GM would sell you a car that runs on pig shit if it sold.” Paul Roberts, the author of The End of Oil notes that consumer disinterest is not an entirely unrealistic claim simply because the average consumer fails to see a difference between an ordinary car and an electric car.
Paine attempts to dismiss this claim by interviewing consumers who were unaware of the electric car’s existence or disappointed in its decommissioning.An extension of this theory is the possibility that consumers were not willing to compromise mileage range in exchange for environmental benefits. However, Paine also presents us with the battery inventor Stanford Ovshinsky who had developed improved battery technology which was not only purchased by oil companies but de-publicized against the whims of Ovshinsky.Paine also turns his camera to Chelsea and Bob Sexton, who observe that the electric car is also ridden with significantly less maintenance burdens than the internal combustion engine that powers a conventional automobile. In addition to the significant absence of stains, grime and dirt in the maintenance of an electric car, there are far fewer parts that require replacement and repair, which deprives auto dealerships of their income.
However, Paine lays the most damning indictment against oil companies such as Texaco and Mobil. The electric car directly conflicted with the interests of oil companies, which made them afraid of the implications it had for their monopoly on transportation fuel. Dr. Joseph Romm of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions notes that oil companies discouraged the electric battery as an alternative, strongly lobbied against the zero emission mandate in California and presented disinformation in the media because it conflicted with their profit future. Romm also draws an interesting comparison between them and the automotive companies that disassembled the public trolley system in California in the late 40s.Paine does not attempt to be ambiguous about this matter.
When it comes to who killed the electric car, the blame lies with conglomerated oil companies, assisted by their friends in the government. In the case of the latter, they were playing favorites to the former employers of Andrew Card, former Vice President of Government Relations at General Motors, and Condoleezza Rice, former member of the Chevron Board of Directors. In the case of the former, they were threatened by the idea that they were sitting on an obsolete resource, and fought successfully to ensure their profits.