Feeds

The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was

What a hit movie really tells us about innovation

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
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.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.