I posted earlier about looking forward to Who Killed the Electric Car, a film documenting the introduction and obliteration of the GM EV-1 and similar all-electric vehicles. It’s getting great reviews, and I enjoyed it more than either Superman or Devil Wears Prada–but I have to say I was less than stunned by it. In some ways, it is probably preaching to the choir.
I think it would have been stronger if it had shown that this was not a unique incident. It touches very superficially on Nader’s fight for automotive safety, and the GM streetcar conspiracy, but I think looking at least a little more in depth at these
There was also a discussion of hydrogen fuel cells that struck me, at least in part, as being a bit unbalanced. They spoke with fuel cell vehicle engineer who was very forthright about the state of current fuel cell technology, and the serious obstacles it still needs to overcome before becoming a viable production choice. They quoted his discussion of these obstacles at length, and yet it is clear that the guy believes in the future of hydrogen vehicles, or he wouldn’t be working on them. It struck me that the discussion might be more complete if there was a bit more attention paid to what benefits this system has. The filmmaker seems to think that the audience will already have formed an opinion on fuel cells, but I think that is an unfair assumption. I wanted to see this guy be able to present his entire case.
The film ends with a discussion of hybrids, and the potential for moving from hybrids to all- or mostly-electric vehicles. One of the most interesting things they point to is the grid-charged modification to the Prius. What they don’t mention is why Toyota is staying away from this as a factory option: that is, their claim that they don’t want to cause “confusion” among users. It seems that there is a clear interest in some version of the Prius+, but that the cars–especially US versions–stay away from anything that might make them appear too revolutionary. They also don’t mention rumors that GM is looking to do another plug-in.
The story, then, is about a missed opportunity. It seems like there isn’t as much of a political critique here, since the rise of the electric car in some form seems almost inevitable. But it does provide a frustrating look at the promise of political action on the environmental side as well as the ways in which existing power structures tend to work against such efforts. The best scenes focused on the engineers and innovators, and I think that if the story could have balanced their work against the political process it might have been a more interesting story. But if this seems like a lukewarm review, it shouldn’t. If you have the opportunity, the film is well worth seeing.