Who Killed the Electric Car?
When I first heard there was a documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car?, it didn’t take rocket science to divine the movie’s theme (environmental innovation squelched by oil profits), but I assumed that the electric car in question would be some weird, bubbly, futuristic prototype sitting in a lab somewhere. The movie’s first revelation is that these babies truly existed, and that they were right there on the open road — hundreds of them, zipping down the highways of California beginning in 1996, the result of a state mandate that said by 2003, 10 percent of all new vehicles had to be emission-free.
By all accounts, not just that of Tom Hanks (who we see proselytizing for the cause on Letterman), the electric car, produced by General Motors, was fast, attractive, and fun to drive. Its singular disadvantage was that the battery needed to be recharged every 60 to 80 miles. But imagine that you were judging the home computer based on, say, a 1984 Macintosh. There’s a word for what was needed to upgrade the electric car — that word is ”progress” — and the second revelation of Who Killed the Electric Car? is that GM, in deciding (at the probable behest of other forces) not just to stop developing this revolutionary vehicle but to take every last one of them off the road and destroy them, did something profoundly un-American: It turned progress back on itself. Who Killed the Electric Car? makes you angry, and also sad, to live in a country where innovation could be contrived into an enemy.