February 02, 2007

What about an Electric Car?

There used to be one. Do you remember the ads for Ford's Think car? Or was it Thing? Think, I think. Whatever...They did make them, though they were small and expensive and had a relatively short range per charge. I kept waiting to see one drive down the street. I didn't understand that they were mostly being offered for lease in California, where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had mandated zero emissions vehicle development, so that by 2003 10% of all vehicles on the road would be completely pollution free. I heard vaguely about a Toyota RAV 4 that had been made electric too. But I knew nothing about the GM car called the EV1, short, presumably, for Electric Vehicle #1.

That car, and the whole issue of electric cars and why they never did appear on my street, is the subject of the documentary WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR, a movie I recently saw on DVD. (It doesn't mention global warming, no, but all I could think was, Damn, this could have saved us...) One of the first cars ever made was electric, and even then some people preferred it: it was CLEAN, quiet, and relatively dependable and it put out no foul smelling exhaust. For some reason though, perhaps cheaper oil than electricity I don't know, the internal combustion engine won out over the electric motor...and our problems were born. From then on, we had cities of increasing smog and air quality alerts and were adding millions then billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Even with electric cars we would have released CO2, due to coal-fired plants, but the smog in our cities would not have been the problem it is. Due to greater efficiency, the net CO2 released would have been less than that released by individual cars guzzling oil and gas. No one can rewrite the past of course, though we can study what did happen and evaluate that.

What did happen is that when the CARB told automakers that by 1998 2% of all vehicles on CA highways had to be ZEVs (zero emission vehicles), they already had prototypes in the works and GM was able to roll out its first EV1 the following year. It cost $35,000 (leased only) and at first had a range of only 80 miles between charges (45 minutes for a charge) but the second model had a range of 120 miles and apparently today it would have a range of at least 300 miles. Still, for most of us, a two-seater car at that price is pretty expensive. Nevertheless, that's what most said about the first PCs, the first DVD players, the first anything. They were expensive and had problems...but these were eventually worked out and as more people were reassured the technology would work well and bought them, the price came down and down and down until now a once $500 DVD player can cost as little as $79!

The auto manufacturers knew this, so why, after letting a number of very enthusiastic drivers lease their cars for a time, and with a large waiting list of those who wanted vehicles, did they repossess their cars (claiming they would be completely recycled or used for educational purposes) then secretly crush and shred them, as nearly brand new as cars could be?

Why? That's a loaded question and it's one the movie tries to answer, and gives us a pretty good idea of the sort of collusion that had to have taken place for such a deed to be done. One thing we know is that despite the car company claims, it was NOT the consumers lack of demand that killed the electric car. There was demand, and plenty of it. GM finally admitted they had had a long waiting list that they deliberately tried to discourage from wanting the cars, selling the drawbacks, emphasizing how bad the cars were etc. Yet they told CARB that they spent a billion on advertising campaigns to sell their product, and no one wanted it! People still wanted it, they wanted it badly. They just couldn't get one, no matter how hard they tried.

There is, as usual, the suspect of Big Oil, which is probably guilty on more than one front, but working so deeply undercover that the connections have not yet been made. One thing we do know was that they bought out the special battery technology used in the EVs. They then refused to release it. Why should they? They could say it was no good, that they'd discovered too many flaws, that it was a bad design, made a bad car worse etc. But we know all what is really going on: they wanted to sell oil and gas and were threatened by the propect of a car that needs neither. Need I add that Bush and Cheney were right there with them, adding their lead to the punch? One of the last things the movie tells us is that because of a move by Bush and Co, the Hummer is given a small business tax credit of $100,000 (yes, that one hundred thousand dollars!) while the use of an EV gets a tax credit of a mere $4000.

You should rent this film if you have any interest in what goes on when a big company gets told what to do and it doesn't want to do it, or decides to collude with the big and powerful to avoid compliance. It isn't as great or as unmissable as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Al Gore's movie about global warming), but it is veddy veddy interesting and if you smell a conspiracy a mile away, as I do, you will appreciate it when you find a real one! BD

Posted by pamwagg at February 2, 2007 11:08 PM


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