Who Killed the Electric Car

joemoefro

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Has anyone seen the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Pretty interesting movie. I'm not much for the whole blame game the movie puts on the oil companies, GM, and others. But i'm mainly for the whole point that 90% of Americans and probably Europeans too only travel 29 miles per day. And the EV goes about 60 miles before having to be recharged.
But what's really interesting is that even when the EV draws power from essentially the coal power plants, its emissions are still less than driving a car.
Additionally, now electric cars can be made to go around 300 miles.
 

amdforever

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I watched the whole documentary a few months ago, I suspect that it is quite a biased overview of a bigger issue.
 

thedguy

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I watched the whole documentary a few months ago, I suspect that it is quite a biased overview of a bigger issue.

It's hard not to have bias in a "documentary" like that, but considering the situation, and the way they presented everything, it didn't seem to far off.

It's especially easy to believe when you consider the Big 3's past. They put a lot of effort into killing off the Tucker Corp. and later when Ford decided to appeal to a niche market and start offering "safety packages" on all their cars, GM told them if they go through with the plan they'll run Ford into the ground, which wouldn't have been particularly hard in the late 50's.
 

jetsetter

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GM's EV1 -- Who Killed Common Sense?: http://blogs.edmunds.com/karl/239

I just finished an interview with ABC News' Bill Blakemore. I was a guest on his show covering the new movie Who Killed the Electric Car? The other guests were the film's director, Chris Paine, and a former EV1 sales assistant, Chelsea Sexton. The film has some basic points it tries to make, all of them quite predictable in a world where most Americans feel they pay too much for gas and faith in the stability of the Middle East is at an all-time low. In terms of timing I give Mr. Paine credit -- the political and cultural atmosphere is ripe for a film like this to make money. Now let's hit the basic points in the film, along with my responses to them:

1. Rumor: There were 5,000 people who wanted an EV1, but GM wouldn't let them buy it.

Fact: There were 5,000 people who expressed interest in an EV1, but when GM called them back and explained that the car cost $299-plus a month to lease, went between 60 and 80 miles on a full charge, and took between 45 minutes and 15 hours to re-charge, very few would commit to leasing one (not too surprising, is it?). The film likes to quote a figure of 29 miles as the average American's daily driving needs, but that is a national figure and the EV1 was only sold in California and Arizona, primarily in Los Angeles. Anyone wanna guess what the average L.A. resident's daily driving need is? I'm betting it's higher than that national average.

As a comparison I actually ran the numbers on a 1997 EV1 against a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta Turbodiesel based on electricity and fuel charges at the time. Between lease charges and fuel/electricity charges, the EV1 cost at least $500 more a year to operate than the Jetta, and the Jetta could hold over twice as many people (five versus two), 50 percent more cargo (15 cubic feet versus 10) and would go almost 600 miles on a tank of fuel versus 60 miles on a charge. And when the Jetta did need filled it took 10 minutes -- not 45 minutes for a partial re-charge and 15 hours for a full re-charge. Ask me again why the electric car died.

2. Rumor: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) originally required automakers to produce electric vehicles, but political pressure from the automakers and oil companies forced them to abandon this law.

Fact: Actually, CARB simply wanted the automakers to produce zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and, in 1990, the only way to accomplish that was with electric vehicles. But in the past 15 years computer processing and fuel injection technology has allowed internal combustion engines to burn so cleanly that they are the equivelant of ZEVs (such as the Toyota Prius). Actually, some might argue gasoline-powered ZEV's are better than electric vehicles because they don't have to be charged by an electric power station, most of which have coal stacks that spew far more pollution than ZEV exhaust pipes. As an example, the average 1965 automobile emitted 2,000 pounds of hydrocarbons over 100,000 miles. Modern ZEVs (that still run on gasoline!) emit two pounds of hydrocarbons over 100,000 miles. Read more about ZEVs here. If you need further proof that the modern internal combustion engine has come a long way, consider the air quality in Los Angeles in 2006 versus 1976 -- despite having far more cars operating in the city today. And this air quality improvement came even with the death of the electric car!

3. Rumor: Many EV1 drivers and fans wanted to purchase their EV1 when the lease ended and GM killed the program, but GM crushed the cars instead to keep people from discovering how great they were.

Fact: All U.S. automakers are required to provide parts and service on a vehicle for a given number of years after it is produced. To support the 1,000 EV1s GM had made would have cost the company a lot of money because of its advanced technology and totally unique nature (it shared almost no parts with other GM products). This is not the case with, for instance, Toyota's electric RAV4, which shares the majority of its parts with regular RAV4s. I'm sure GM also worried about the potential for lawsuits if owners bought the cars and started modifying them (something that surely would have happened -- look at what's already happening with the Prius). "But Karl, these EV1 fans were willing to sign waivers against future liabilities if they could buy the cars." Waivers are great in theory, but any lawyer knows there is always a path around them -- especially if the payoff is big enough (which will always be the case when GM is the defendant).

4. Rumor: GM purposely made the EV1 perform poorly so that it could never succeed.

Fact: Before I define how "good" or "bad" the EV1 was let me first say that GM was given plenty of funding from the government to develop this car. They can cry about spending over a billion dollars, but much of that cost was covered by your and my tax money. That said, if GM was trying to make the EV1 fail, they did a poor job of it. The company tried to offer a vehicle that had every modern creature comfort (air conditioning, power windows, high quality audio system) and they offered free roadside assistance. They also developed a second-generation EV1 that used nickel-metal hydride batteries to get far better range on a charge (though these batteries were even more expensive, and hard to keep cool). They could have sabotaged the EV1 much more effectively by offering no creature comforts and no roadside assistance and spotty dealer training, yet most EV1 customers were thrilled with GM's support of the car. However, the company knew the vehicle would never offer the combination of utility and functionality demanded by 99 percent of U.S. consumers, and they knew it was a money loser for that other one percent. GM's biggest mistake was letting the R&D (largely funded by the government) from the EV1 program go to waste by not immediately transitioning it into hybrid drivetrain development. The film touches on this mis-step by GM, and it's the one point I completely agree with.

5. Rumor: The oil industry is evil because it's making a profit.

Fact: The American economy is based on capitalism. If you're doing business in America you're supposed to make a profit.

As a side note, what are the makers of "Who Killed the Electric Car?" hoping to achieve with their movie? Do they want it to make a profit? Did they pick this specific time to release the movie because they think it will make the most money now? The electric car died years ago, so why did it take this long for the movie to arrive? Maybe all proceeds will go to developing a new electric car or developing a cheap battery that has massive storage capacity and can be charged in a very short amount of time.

I personally believe the technology exists in 2006 to produce a far more effective electric car than was possible in 1997. But I make no promises on what it would cost to produce. If these filmakers want to subsidize this research for a new electric car, or subsidize the purchase of this new electric vehicle by consumers to offset the initial costs of producing it, I'd be all for that!

For those of you who want to learn more I found two interesting Web pages (here and here) devoted to the EV1 driving experience. These folks both loved their EV1s, but they also freely admit to the car's limitations. It'd be interesting to see what an EV1 with today's battery technology might accomplish, but like the original Star Trek I think the car was simply ahead of its time. And hey, we all know how well the subsequent iterations of Star Trek did when society finally caught up and "got it."

The ABC news interview was pre-taped and should air in the next few days. When I know the exact time I'll let you all know. I'm anxious to see the final cut.

In the end companies are in business to make money. That statement should cover everything.
 

watisdis

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jetsetter to the rescue! :p ;)
 

thedguy

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Regardless of how much evidence is posted to the contrary I will continue to blindly follow what the movie told me. GM BAD!
 

joemoefro

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I was going to respond to all the rumors, but I found somebody off the edmunds website who responded to all of them and I decided that it was a good response. So thank you prm2000 for saving me a little time!

prm2000 - Jun 26, 2006 5:46 pm (#6 Total: 20)

Rumor 1: I don't know who is telling you your information, but my parents waited on a list for 6 months to get a car. Their sales rep was Ms. Sexton, who was quoted saying: "Eventually, when we ran out of cars to lease, the EV Specialists started a waiting list, not having any idea how controversial that move would become. "If there?s enough demand, General Motors would tell us, we will build you more cars." Problem was, they would never quantify just how many orders constituted "demand"- and so our list just kept growing with the names of people willing to wait an unknown period of time for the possibility of getting a car. Many of the people who were able to lease EV1s had to wait up to a year to do so." That doesn't quite jibe with your source.

Rumor 2: Astounding ignorance. Using the dirtiest coal plants to power an electric car still results in a small net reduction in pollution, even if you discount the fact that cars would predominately charge at night when there is currently surplus wasted elctricity. In California we have very clean power, which dramatically reduces the net pollution when powering an electric car. Coal plants have the capacity to get much cleaner, but even if pollutants are not dramatically reduced in the case of dirty coal, our dependance on middle eastern oil IS being reduced.

Rumor 3: I don't buy your argument that it was different for GM than it was for Toyota and Ford. The main component of concern for all of them was the drivetrain, brakes and electrical controls. The EV1 didn't have dramatically different concerns.

Rumor 4: Who says this? That is a totally bogus rumor. GM made a great car. That was one of the problems. Certain factions in GM management expected it to fail, and were forced to kill it when it started to succeed.

Rumor 5: Ridiculous straw man. Of course oil companies are entitled to sell their product and make a profit. Likewise, you have to admit that electric cars are an enormous threat to there core business and they should be expected to act accordingly. Do you dispute that?

I would just like to comment that the limited range of the EV1 was part of the reason why it was attractive to select buyers.
 

Hercules286

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If the electric car were worth the hassle, it would've been made by some EU manifacturer. It wasn't. ;P
 

Jay

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We all know the reason why the EV was killed off: GM was terrified by all the weird, eccentric, flaky people who flocked to lease the EV, instead of purchasing what they normally would drive, which would be Subaru's. Trust me, I know!!


:D
 

thedguy

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The thing some people seem to be ignoring is that it's not just GM. Toyota and Ford both had EV vehicles, Ford had electric Rangers, and Toyota had the RAV4. The moment they could destroy 'em, they did too.

And BTW, I remember seeing a large amount of RAV4 EV's, they were leased to So.Cal Edison.
 
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