Feeds

The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was

What a hit movie really tells us about innovation

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

It's almost two years since the debut of Chris Paine's documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? The movie has been a success in US theatres and often comprises one half of a double bill with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. But what the success of the movie tells us is more alarming than any conspiracy it purports to unveil: a disdain for engineering, for technological innovation, and most of all a disdain for us, the consumers.

It's the story of General Motors' ill-fated EV1 electric car.

A hundred years ago, Who Killed? observes, General Motors bought up trolley car firms just to close this source of competition down. Today, it suggests, a covert alliance of Big Oil, Big Auto and corrupt regulators, both in California and in the federal government, has killed the electric car.

Vogueishly, Who Killed the Electric Car? makes transparent all the evil personalities connected around these three forces. In legal style, it finds them guilty of murdering General Motors' two-seater Electric Vehicle 1 (EV1). It shows the usual nauseating network of silver-haired execs, lobbyists and politicos, but gives some emphasis to George W Bush (a quack salesman for hydrogen cars) and Alan Lloyd, chairman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 1999-2004.

Hand made

The story starts in 1996, with GM putting EV1s 'all over California' - or at least that's the claim with which the film opens. In fact, GM made a total of just 800, which doesn't say much for the machine's real ubiquity. GM's Saturn division built four a day, by hand. Each cost $250-500 a month to rent, which is by no means exorbitant. Quite a few EV1s were lent to celebrities, including Mel Gibson, Ted Danson. Indeed, Tom Hanks told the David Letterman show that a single charge for a range of 70-80 miles a day was all he needed personally. Anyway, Hanks proclaimed somewhat tongue in cheek, "I'm saving America".

GM's EV1 Electric Car

GM's EV1 electric car

But GM's heart wasn't in it, the movie explains. From its smoked glass HQ in Detroit, the company failed to promote the EV1. GM's ad campaign - shock, horror! - failed to feature good looking men and women. GM pointed up the car's limitations, and Gibson and Danson were asked to make deeply bureaucratic 'case statements' about it. Then oil firms campaigned against the state of California spending public money on roadside electrical charging stations. Soon, too, Mobil mobilised editorials hostile to the electric car in the pages of USA Today and Newsweek.

Some time after 1987, when GM chief Roger Smith first challenged his company's designers to come up with an electric vehicle, the California Air Resources Board became interested in the project. CARB had seen GM's first prototype of the EV1, the fatefully misnamed Impact. In 1990, CARB passed the Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, requiring a rising percentage of California's cars to be free of emissions. Not too long after that, however, US car manufacturers negotiated a Master Memorandum of Agreement with CARB ensuring that the mandate require them to build the electric car only to the extent that there was consumer demand for it.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.