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News Who Killed the Electric Car?

  1. Jul 31, 2006 #1
    I had the pleasure of watching "Who Killed the Electric Car" in a speak easy theatre yesterday. I highly recommend it. The lengths that GM went to to make sure none of the EV-1's survived are incredible.

    If you haven't seen the movie go do so. If you have seen it let's talk about the politics of our corporatist government. And the movie.

    [edit] I guess I should link a trailer..:blushing:

    http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony/whokilledtheelectriccar/trailer/ [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2006 #2
    The Stonecutters did.
  4. Jul 31, 2006 #3


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    What the heck is a 'speak easy' theater? You make it sound like the movie is banned and you saw it illegally.

    For those of us that haven't seen it and are not likely to soon, could you give a recap of exactly what GM did and perhaps some overview of what chances an electric car ever had in the first place? Are you referring to the Saturn EV-1? There is a dealer in Whittier where I grew up that I recall bringing several on lot. I actually checked out one (though I had no intention of buying it - I wasn't shopping for a car at the time), and remember they had no success at all selling any of them. The only use I remember them getting around here was the SoCal Edison fleets, which employed electric vans for a while (I'm not sure that they do any more).
  5. Jul 31, 2006 #4


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    If I rememeber correctly, the elecrtric cars were very slow and had a severe distance limit. They weren't meant for anyhting more than housewive's going to pick up groceries at the nearby store. They couldn't travel on highways or even commutes to and from work.
  6. Jul 31, 2006 #5
    The early electrics were limited to about 80 miles per charge. On the other hand they would be great in stop and go city traffic because they don't use any energy while stopped.

    I think the big thing is that people are spoiled by the convience of gasoline. Non eof the electrics had A/C. Even the hybrids automatically start the gas engine if the A/C or other accessories are turned on.

    So we go on burning a gallon of gasoline to run down to the store and buy a quart of milk.
  7. Jul 31, 2006 #6
    :rofl: It is a theatre that serves food and spirits. The seating is spread out like in a night club where you would go to watch a stage act, except you have a movie screen. there are tables and chairs, as well as couches to sit on. It is a great experience, they have family days, and even a babies welcome day.

    Oh BTW it is legal. :rofl:

    California passed a zero emission law. The car companies complied by building electric cars, but they also sued. Finally the state compromised then caved in to pressure from the car companies and the FED. (The Bush administration sued as well.) The story is about the development and destruction of the cars. The people who leased them were not allowed to extend their lease or buy them outright. GM took back every single one. They then crushed and shredded them. It is a good movie, and well worth the $5.00 matinee
  8. Jul 31, 2006 #7
    You should see the movie.

    The EV-1 was very fast, electric motors have a lot of torque so they were real quick off the line. GM had the NiMH battery, but didn't put it in the car for 2 years. The compromise with California was that they only had to produce them if the consumers would buy them. Your memory is correct about the perception of electric cars, however the reality was different, that is why they were all destroyed, so that the perception would be maintained. The EV-1 with the NiMH battery had a 120 mile range small start-up companies today have electric cars that will do 80+ with a 300 mile range.

    The EV-1 was a threat to the internal combustion engine, and that was a threat to the auto industries parts division as well as the quarterly oil, air and fuel filters, oil changes PCV valves etc etc. I recommend seeing it and hearing the testimonials of the people who leased these cars and even held a mass funeral for their cars when they were not allowed to keep them.
  9. Jul 31, 2006 #8
    That was intentional, if consumer demand was high they would be compelled by the agreement with the state of California to produce them. The batteries today (which were available then) give electrics a much greater range.

    I will look into that. good point though.

    Being vegan I prefer rice milk (no carrageenan) and I bike to the store. It is so much nicer to breath fresh air as opposed to the stale air inside an automobile.
  10. Jul 31, 2006 #9
    I'm really looking forward to this, but unfortunately it doesn't come out for a few months here. It raises some very valid questions, by the looks of it.
  11. Aug 1, 2006 #10
    Why on earth would anyone want to drive on of those? You're just burning oil (coal) somewhere else, and wasting power by sending it over miles of transmission lines to your car. I see no advantage at all - they accelerate extremely poorly, and take an hour to charge. I'm amazed anyone would blame such an awful product's failure on a conspiracy theory.

    Next up - how the CIA killed the Ford Nucleon and doomed us to fossil fuels.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2006
  12. Aug 1, 2006 #11
    Not all power stations are coal, and clean coal is more efficent in terms of polution to power output than the internal combustion engine, isnt it?
    Not all electric cares are have poor performance
  13. Aug 1, 2006 #12
    I remember when the cars came out when I was in Los Angeles. IIRC, they cost about $35K back then.
  14. Aug 1, 2006 #13


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    The biggest problem with electric cars is not their upstream power-plant pollution, or the transmission loss across power lines, or even their performance (they can be quite fast!).

    The biggest problem with electric cars are:

    1) To get decent range, they must weigh tons. They weigh so much that governments were concerned about having to radically increase spending on road maintenance. In addition, the large mass makes them much more dangerous in collisions than other, lighter vehicles.

    2) Current battery technologies are only good for perhaps 300-400 charge cycles. This means after a year or two of use, you have to replace the battery pack -- one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle -- and dispose of the carcass. If major recycling centers were to go into operation, perhaps the environmental impact could be mitigated. Without major battery-recycling infrastructure, the yearly disposal of thousands of pounds of heavy metals by every family in the country would be an environmental nightmare far worse than the current problems caused by conventional automobiles.

    I spent several years as a group leader in the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team at Virginia Tech, and did way more than my fair share of research. My conclusion is that the only currently-available technology that meets all the criteria for usability, ownership cost, and environmental friendliness is: the hydrogen fuel-cell.

    Don't worry, it's coming.

    - Warren
  15. Aug 1, 2006 #14
    What you believe you know about electric cars is a product of the efforts of GM, big oil, and even the California Air Resources Board. The chairman at the time was also part of the push for hydrogen as an energy carrier.

    They killed the electric car, promised us hydrogen in 20 or so years, and started selling the Hummer H2.

    I think you will enjoy the movie, not only is it informative, but also quite entertaining.
  16. Aug 1, 2006 #15
    I merely stated the obvious - electric cars rely heavily on fossil fuels just like ICE cars. I don't appreciate "you believe you know" arguments, they're rather pretentious in my point of view. Stick to facts and arguments.
  17. Aug 1, 2006 #16
    The Tesla roadster does not weigh tons.
    2) Current battery technologies are only good for perhaps 300-400 charge cycles. This means after a year or two of use, you have to replace the battery pack -- one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle -- and dispose of the carcass.

    As long as companies like Tesla are willing to handle the recycling I don't see this as a problem.
    And how is the hydrogen going to be produced?

    Hydrogen fuel cells (IMHO) are feel good idea to keep us dependant on oil until the last dollar of profit can be wrung out of last 300 or so billion barrels left.

    Why not share some of the results of that research instead of your reassurance that someday, in the future, we will solve the current problems with pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.
  18. Aug 1, 2006 #17


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    While I do not dispute the enormous sociopolitical influence of the major multinational oil companies, I cannot permit you to continue to make sweeping statements about conspiracies without some kind of meaningful references.

    And no, a movie documentary with an agenda is not such a reference.

    An obvious counterargument would be that GM made the EV1, at least in limited quantities. If there was some active conspiracy, why did the EV1 ever get produced at all?

    Another obvious counterargument is that there are many other companies in the world besides GM who currently make street-legal electric vehicles. Some links to those companies have even been posted in this thread. If some enormous oil-monger conspiracy exists to prevent us from moving away from fossil fuels, then why are these companies still in business?

    Another obvious counterargument would be the ubiquity of hybrid vehicles these days. If the oil-mongers had such an elaborate conspiracy going on, why would they permit the sale of millions of vehicles with roughly twice the efficiency of conventional cars?

    Another obvious counterargument is the presence of bicycle lanes in almost every city, and the fact that anyone can go to a bike shop and purchase a bicycle, and choose to ride that instead. Why hasn't Big Oil been able to totally squash the bicycle industry, a mere gnat in comparison to their might.

    Another obvious counterargument is that GM continues to sells the Hummer... because people to continue to buy the Hummer. Certainly Big Oil hasn't managed to brainwash people to the point that they don't realize how expensive and wasteful and environmentally unfriendly the Hummer is. Every Hummer driver realizes their car is enormous, and is a gas guzzler, and costs a lot to fill up. The only reason such people buy Hummers is because they think the Hummer, as a status symbol (or, in some cases, a genuine off-road tool) is worth the additional cost and damage to the environment. GM did not reach into those peoples' pockets and take their money -- they simply offered a product which those people found attractive. Sure, you could say that the "status symbol" nature of the automobile was designed into the product from day one -- but the same could be said of laptop computers, Italian leather shoes, and Dom Perignon, and virtually every other kind of consumer product -- and Big Oil certainly doesn't have much to do with bubbly.

    - Warren
  19. Aug 1, 2006 #18
    I wasn't referring to your statement about fossil fuels being used to produce electricity. However it is easier to regulate the emissions of 25,000 power plants than 300 million automobiles.

    When I made the statement "What you think you know", I was responding to this comment.

    Performance specs for the Tesla roadster

    0-60 in 4 seconds, 130mph, That is all the performance I need.
  20. Aug 1, 2006 #19
    As opposed to batteries? The same fossil fuels can be burned to produce electricity for hydrolysis of water (or catalytic oxidation of hydrocarbons), or to charge an electrolytic battery. Or they can be burned directly, in an ICE, it's all the same thing!
  21. Aug 1, 2006 #20


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    So..... why hasn't the Big Oil conspiracy managed to kill Tesla Motors like you claim it "killed" the EV1? Explain this glaring disconnect in your logic to me, please.

    You can produce hydrogen from any energy source, via the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen fuel cells are really just a different kind of battery chemistry, which makes me wonder how on earth you can be simultaneously pro-EV and anti-hydrogen. If we ever achieve fusion, we can use that energy to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen is "source agnostic" in exactly the same way that electricity is.

    Here's another disconnect in your logic: If you're so excited about electric cars -- which use electricity from plants which burn fossil fuels -- then how can you claim that they're not a "feel good idea" also? Electric vehicles are essentially just fossil fuel vehicles with big batteries.

    Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are already being produced, and used throughout the country. They will eventually meet the criteria for usability, price, and performance for private citizens as the infrastructure is constructed for hydrogen distribution.

    The biggest problem facing automakers right now is a paradoxical one: fuel cell technology has been advancing so quickly over the last couple of decades that they're not willing to invest money in building and tooling a factory, knowing that a couple of years later, it'll be obsoleted. Once fuel-cell technology reaches some kind of plateau, you'll begin seeing them as the next generation hybrid.

    - Warren
  22. Aug 1, 2006 #21
    I agree, however the movie speaks for itself. I was actually hoping that others had or would see the movie so that we could discuss, confirm, or debunk claims made in the movie.

    Because California passed a law requiring auto companies to make 2% of the cars sold in California be zero emission.

    GM was not the only company to destroy their electric vehicles after California backed down.

    I never claimed there was an elaborate conspiracy. The Oil Industry did however fund anti-electric media propaganda.

    I guess you missed the long and continuing fights to get a small sliver of a huge transportation budget diverted from more highway infrastructure to alternative transportation.

    And again I re-iterate, I am not alleging a massive conspiracy, but you don't need a massive conspiracy when you have so many vested interests feeling threatened. The powers that be can act in concert without conspiring to do so when they see their own self interests are threatened.

    GM is fast becoming the #2 automaker in the world. Toyota is a couple 100,000 cars away from taking over as the worlds biggest automaker. I didn't say it was a smart thing to do, just that they did it and are paying the price now.

    One of the people interviewed in the movie was a member of GM's board during the EV-1s life. He offered some interesting insight, and once made a statement about how GM was conducting itself with Congress, when he abruptly stopped. After a pause he said, "End of comment."

    I suppose I will have to take the time to research the citations, but that takes all the fun out of it. :frown:

    I was hoping others like Antech would provide some links to either support or debunk the movies assertions.
  23. Aug 1, 2006 #22


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    Arguments without research are of no use to anyone, even if they are "fun."

    I don't think I'm interested in seeing the movie if, as you have claimed, its main point is that electric cars were somehow killed in a conspiracy by Big Oil. I'm subjected to enough horse**** from journalists and advertising firms already -- I'm not going to pay to go see more.

    Your claims that Big Oil killed GM's electric car are specious and unsupported here in this thread -- and likely are complete nonsense -- and you've actually already seen this thriller of a movie, yes? Why don't you have anything more intelligent, better researched, or better supported to say after having seen such a fine film? Maybe the movie itself is a conspiracy to get you to think Big Oil is (more) evil?

    GM's cancellation of the EV1 project was probably a bad decision, but it's no worse a decision than any of the hundreds of other bad decisions they've made over the last few decades.

    And, in general, I agree that Big Oil execs are not the kind of people I'd invite to my Thanksgiving dinners. I'm fully aware of the efforts the auto and oil industries have put into killing mass transit initiatives all over the country: I'm a bicycle activist myself. And, point of fact, I think even you electric vehicle proponents are a disgraceful, wasteful lot, too, and you should all be on bicycles instead. Who needs 2,000 lbs of batteries just to go a puny 80 miles? :biggrin:

    - Warren
  24. Aug 1, 2006 #23
    Big Oil did not kill the EV-1. Sorry if I led you to believe that. The movie does not claim some big conspiracy, however it does document a distinct resistance to electric cars and a concerted, not necessarily conspiratorial effort to kill the idea.

    If there was a conspiracy it was completely within GM IMO. GM went to great lengths to make sure none of the EV-1s were left on the road. The only one left is disabled and in a museum.

    I am also a bicycle enthusiast. So you probably aware of some of the local regional and national fights to get the bicycle infrastructure we enjoy today. I live in Berkeley, which you would think such progressive ideas would be welcome, but even now I am writing letters to the editors and petitioning council members to support a transportation services fee to mitigate 20% of the cost of more peak trips brought about by new development. The money would go to fund more pedestrian/bicycle friendly development.
    See the Tesla, 2500lb curb weight, 250 mile range, the technology has changed.

    BTW- thanks for the fuel cell info.:smile:
  25. Aug 1, 2006 #24


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    Okay, perhaps we're converging onto the same arguments, now. That's good.

    I don't have any hard facts (and I doubt anyone else outside of GM does, either), but I'd venture that GM killed the EV-1 mostly because they felt it would be a dismal failure on the open market. It doesn't mean much that they leased every unit they made (1,100) -- after all, if I had the advertising clout to reach a billion people every day during prime-time hours, I'm sure I could sell 1,100 of anything, too.

    I'm sure the EV1 was cancelled for economic reasons. You also have to consider that quite a lot of GM's R&D dollars are spent in facilities making expensive components (engines, transmissions, etc.) which the electric vehicles don't have. The cost of converting a significant fraction of their labor force and tooling and factory equipment to making electric vehicles alone would have made the EV1 a financial disaster. It's almost as if Intel had decided one day to grow tomatoes instead.

    I'm also sure that the cancellation of the EV1 had some "emotional" components, too. After all, the company that has made gasoline-powered cars for many generations. Many people fear change -- including people who depend on their jobs to feed their children. I'm sure the employee sentiment was prejudiced against the EV1 simply because most people instinctively fear change.

    The stock market also probably feared such a sea change, and you cannot underestimate the impact of stockholder sentiment on a company's actions. After all, a public company's number one commitment is, in fact, to make its shareholders money. All other objectives come afterwards.

    I suspect that GM played the EV1 very strategically. They were forced into producing it by CARB, so they produced it. They used it to garner a lot of positive press for the few years it existed. After the legal imperative expired, they quietly took them all back and destroyed them, hoping the negative press of destroying them wouldn't completely negate the positive press of having created it to start with.

    And, for the record, if you're pro-EV, you should absolutely be pro-hydrogen. They have all the advantages of EVs, plus they're low-mass, have no toxic heavy metals to recycle, can be "recharged" in seconds flat, and will eventually be cheaper in volume than chemical batteries could hope to be.

    - Warren
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2006
  26. Aug 1, 2006 #25
    I don't know a lot about hydrogen. I have heard good and bad. The good like you have mentioned, the bad being technological feasibility being 1 to 2 decades away, no efficient means of production, no fueling infrastructure etc. Just what I have heard not anything I know. I do believe that it is coming because Bush said so. If the US is making a commitment, and the oil industry is onboard, I would suspect that it is probably almost a done deal.

    I think the reason hydrogen is the preferred energy carrier is that it will use the same fuel station infrastructure, conveniently converted when gasoline becomes less profitable. I also believe we will see a nice smooth transition at some point in the future with the oil companies providing the bulk of the hydrogen.

    I was not particularly pro EV. I feel that smart growth, ie infill not outgrowth, transit oriented development, and shifting the transportation budget from the automobile and more highways to more convenient mass transit will do more to curb pollution than electric cars.

    The movie just offers some great insight into the entrenched interests and the inertia that must be overcome to make even small changes to the status quo. The movie hits on most of the points you made in your last post. It really is worth seeing, not a wild conspiracy, it tells the story of the EV-1, the people involved with the program, and the fight by those who leased the cars to try and keep them.
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