12. Dominguez - Who Killed the Electric Car


1. Title, director and release year?
- Who Killed the Electric Car, Chris Paine, 2006

2. What is the central argument or narrative of the film?
- The central argument of this film surrounds the creation, commercialization, and destruction of the first fully electric vehicle in the United States. Ironically, General Motors was the creator and destructor of the EV-1. This film argues that industries have too much say in government and, consequently, hold back sustainable change, even when there is demand for it. The demand for electric cars went unknown because consumers did not know they could purchase an electric car, and those who were aware were told of the vehicle’s limitations rather than its benefits to the environment. Furthermore, consumers who were interested in purchasing an EV1 were faced with a long and arduous process to obtain one. This limited, bias commercialization reduced demand, thus justifying the discontinuation of the vehicle; essentially, it was a way for the auto industry to prove a point and say, ‘We tried selling them and no one wanted them.’

3. What sustainability problems does the film draw out?
- This film goes into great detail with the health problems associated with gasoline usage, focusing primarily on California (the state with the worst air quality). California’s air quality is very much a public health crisis waiting to happen, since poor air quality has been linked to asthma, lung cancer, lung lesions, and chronic respiratory disease, among others. This has implications for increased health costs which puts financial burdens on American families and government, not the corporations that helped cause the poor air quality.
- The film also touches on the political problems that are associated with regulating the auto industry. The government mandates have attempted to crack down on the auto industry with new regulations; however, the industry has consistently fought back and even convinced some consumers they do not want the change the government is mandating. This, then, is a political issue in that industry is clearly biased and has even managed to get government to be more lenient in their mandates; this puts corporate success over the public health and well-being. It is important for our government to value the nation’s physical health over its economic health; otherwise we will never learn to value the environment above industry.
- Overall, it is well known that the burning of fossil fuels is one of the causes of global warming. Such fossil fuel consumption is incorporated in the use of automobiles, and the destruction of the electric car was a step in the right direction. Granted driving electric cars is not the single solution to stop global warming, however, it is better than driving gas-powered vehicles, and even better than some hybrids. The film discusses the obvious denial that global warming is even a serious problem on the part of the auto industry. At this point, we must be beyond debating whether global warming is existent or not; regardless of the fact, we should have a better understanding of the way we degrade our environment at an ever-increasing rate and act accordingly to correct this degradation.

4. What parts of the film did you find most persuasive and compelling? Why?
- The part of the film I found most compelling was the part where consumers who had already leased the EV-1 were not allowed to purchase them or renew their leases and these people were literally fighting to keep their leases. The cars were being taken from them, as if being repossessed, just to be destroyed later by its manufacturer. This perfectly depicts how our nation continuously makes progress and then moves backwards (i.e. creating mandates and not enforcing them). Even further, seeing the confiscated cars sitting in lots awaiting destruction was heartbreaking to see. So much potential for progress being destroyed, and by its creator nonetheless.

5. What parts of the film were you not compelled or convinced by?
- I was not compelled by the notion that research is time consuming and we cannot expect industry to test everything they produce. This, to me, is preposterous. When it comes down to life or death products (like automobiles), the industry should not only be obligated to test all models thoroughly before manufacturing/selling them, they should also be held accountable for the faulty products they produce. An example of this, shown in a matrix presentation, was the history of the Ford Pinto. Regulations for testing automobiles were very lenient and, as a result, lives were lost. Policies should not be so lenient as to suggest thorough testing rather than mandate it.

6. What additional information does this film compel you to seek out? Where do you want to dig deeper and what connections do you want to make with other issues, factors, problems, etc.?
- This film compelled me to understand just how the electric car was bad for the auto industry. Had it not been for the bias commercialization and difficult process of acquiring one, the EV-1 had massive potential. As far as cost effectiveness, perhaps they were more expensive to produce, thus lacking immediate payback. However, with increased production, technology would have evolved, making the production process more efficient and profitable. It is this long run payback that may have kept industry from promoting the EV-1 sales, since our nation is plagued with short-sightedness.

7. What audiences does the film best address? What kind of imagination is fostered in viewers? Do you think the film is likely to change the way viewers think about and act on environmental problems?
- This film, in my opinion, best addresses young adults and older audiences because they are more likely to understand the implications associated with an electric car versus a gas-powered car since they are able to drive. Not to say that other audiences will not enjoy this documentary; however, it would probably encourage drivers who have the consumer power to make change in the auto industry to act on it.

8. What kinds of action or points of intervention are suggested by the film?
- This film calls for policy changes and policy enforcement. It is clear that the auto industry, as most other industries, have too much control over their regulation. Industries do not regulate themselves for a reason; it is imperative that those that govern industry are impartial to the industry and have the well-being of society in mind above all else.
- This film also encourages consumers to use the consumer power they have when purchasing vehicles. Nowadays the biased commercialization is scarce and acquiring a hybrid car is not so difficult, and electric cars are slowly being reintroduced. Nonetheless, this film encourages consumers to portray their values through their purchases and show industry what is important to them. Consumers are no longer objected to the same choices in vehicle; if one manufacturer does not provide hybrids or electric cars, there is another that will.

9. What could have been added to this film to enhance its environmental education value?
- This film could have added an explanation as to why the electric car is better for the environment than the hybrid car. Although I am not sure that the hybrid car was even being mass produced in the United States at this point, I am sure the possibility of hybrids was known. Thus, it would have been great to have the film speak to the positives and negatives of each as alternatives to the gas-powered car, and why it is important for this transition to occur from an environmental perspective.

[posted May 3, 2010]