Who Killed the Electric Car? is the kind of documentary that makes you want to beat your head against a wall. Not because it’s bad, but because what it documents is so depressing that you just might consider resigning from the human race after bearing witness to it.
A would-be technological marvel and environmental savior, the electric car remains mysterious to the average American, the stuff of myth and dismissal since it fell out of favor as a practical mode of transportation in the early 20th century. Paine’s solid film investigates the failed early-90s push for mass production of this vehicle. By ’96, General Motors developed the EV1 model, a battery-powered breakthrough that was not only without emissions, but fast, stylish, and in need of little maintenance. But just as the car was on the verge of greater public awareness, and thus market demand, the plug was literally pulled. Former EV1 owner Paine asks why.
It turns out all the worst traits of American groupthink contributed to the electric car’s demise: greed on the part of competition-killing oil companies, stubborn gullibility on the part of fearful consumers, corporate collusion on the part of federal and local governments, shortsightedness and cowardice on the part of the automotive industry. Like so much in our current national nightmare, such myopia links to our dependence on — you guessed it — foreign oil. With that I’ll leave the rest to Paine’s well-researched, historically contextual doc, and pass the edifying frustration onto you.