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The Electric Car was killed, but is it making a comeback?

October 17, 2010

There’s a compelling documentary out there which never quite got the notoriety it deserved. There’s also a vehicle out there which went almost completely under the public’s radar as well. Both, sadly, received so little attention for too long. But now, the electric car is making a comeback and Who Killed the Electric Car? played a big role in its revival.

The advent of the “hybrid” car seemed genius, at first. The Prius gained momentum fairly quickly, and all of us environmentally conscious people breathed a big sigh of relief. It was, at least, a step in the right direction. It was exciting to see more people out on the road driving Priuses.  They were more efficient vehicles and used less gas, and they emitted less carbon than the standard vehicle. But why use less gas when you can use no gas at all?


Around the same time, we heard about those extremely expensive electric cars out there — the Apteras and the Teslas of the world. They drew attention to the electric-car movement and proved that the technology was feasible, but their price tags gave the public a perception that electric cars had to be very expensive. They were out of reach for the “average” American and not practical due to their size and spaceship design; electric cars were for the eco-savvy celebrities with money to piss away.

If other carmakers were making these electric vehicles, why weren’t GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan et al jumping on this and producing less expensive electric vehicles? And then, my questions were answered. Who Killed the Electric Car? wandered into my DVD player recently, and I had one of those a-ha moments.  It all came together for me. Electric cars can and were, at one time, made for the average American at a reasonable cost. The problem was that they required no gas.

Between 1996- 1999, General Motors produced an entirely electric vehicle called the EV1. It was the first mass-produced electric vehicle and was available to consumers through lease agreements to residents of Los Angeles, California and Phoenix and Tuscon, Arizona.  EV1 lessees were officially participants in a “real-world engineering evaluation” and market study into the feasibility of producing and marketing an electric vehicle in select U.S. markets. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) also passed a mandate that made the production and sale of zero-emission vehicles a requirement for the seven major automakers selling cars in the United States to continue to market their vehicles in California. The future of the electric car was looking bright.

And then, the electric car suffered a similar fate to the solar panels which were ripped off the White House during the Reagan Administration. An alliance of the major automakers litigated the CARB regulation in court, which resulted in a slackening of the Zero Emission Vehicle stipulation, permitting the companies to produce super-low-emissions vehicles or natural-gas vehicles or hybrid cars in place of pure electrics. The EV1 program was discontinued in 2002, and all of the EV1’s on the road were repossessed and then crushed.

The destruction of the EV1 is a controversial case, and I will not go into the nitty-gritty details here. I urge you to watch Who Killed the Electric Car? Order it on NetFlix today! GM’s self-sabotaging of its own electric car program is complex, but I have no doubt it was rooted in the oil industry’s goal to keep electric vehicles off the road.  The EV1 was not well publicized, either. The players instrumental in the electric car’s demise certainly did not want the public to know a mass-produced, affordable electric car could even be produced. That is the very reason why you see Hybrids on the road as opposed to Electric Cars.

Fortunately, the Electric Car is making a comeback.  Nissan has launched the “Leaf”: a zero-emissions, no gas, 5-passenger vehicle. It’s affordable, roomy and best of all, drivers do not have to rely on gas. Imagine your life without putting dirty, expensive gas into your vehicle! Electric cars like the Leaf do not require use of foreign oil, making America a more energy-independent nation, and they enjoy zero emissions and a silent hum of an electric motor.  Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf are much more reliable and require less maintenance than gas-powered cars. You don’t even need a quarterly oil change!

If American consumers begin to demand electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, carmakers will have no choice but to respond to this demand and produce affordable electric vehicles. We can be a nation that isn’t dependent on foreign oil, and we do not have to continue to make the already rich oil companies even wealthier. I believe the electric car is back, and it’s here to stay, and I hope that in the not-so-distant future we’ll all be pulling up to electric charge stations, as opposed to gas pumps.

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