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Who Killed the Electric Car?

4.6 out of 5 stars 422 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In 1996, electric cars began to appear on roads all over California. They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust and ran without gasoline. Ten years later, these futuristic cars were almost entirely gone. What happened? Why should we be haunted by the ghost of the electric car?


It begins with a solemn funeral…for a car. By the end of Chris Paine's lively and informative documentary, the idea doesn't seem quite so strange. As narrator Martin Sheen notes, "They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust and ran without gasoline." Paine proceeds to show how this unique vehicle came into being and why General Motors ended up reclaiming its once-prized creation less than a decade later. He begins 100 years ago with the original electric car. By the 1920s, the internal-combustion engine had rendered it obsolete. By the 1980s, however, car companies started exploring alternative energy sources, like solar power. This, in turn, led to the late, great battery-powered EV1. Throughout, Paine deftly translates hard science and complex politics, such as California's Zero-Emission Vehicle Mandate, into lay person's terms (director Alex Gibney, Oscar-nominated for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, served as consulting producer). And everyone gets the chance to have their say: engineers, politicians, protesters, and petroleum spokespeople--even celebrity drivers, like Peter Horton, Alexandra Paul, and a wild man beard-sporting Mel Gibson. But the most persuasive participant is former Saturn employee Chelsea Sexton. Promoting the benefits of the EV1 was more than a job to her, and she continues to lobby for more environmentally friendly options. Sexton provides the small ray of hope Paine's film so desperately needs. Who Killed the Electric Car? is, otherwise, a tremendously sobering experience. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Stills from Who Killed the Electric Car? (click for larger image)

Writer/Director Chris Paine Blogs About Who Killed the Electric Car

When Who Killed the Electric Car premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (on the same weekend as An Inconvenient Truth), we wondered whether movie goers were ready for a new kind of 'action film'. Fortunately people jumped onboard and this seems even more true today.

We put this DVD together after the release of the film to include a dozen short scenes we couldn't quite fit into our story. My favorite is one with Stan and Iris Ovshinsky who developed the revolutionary battery technology that powered GM's electric car (and today's Prius). These two brilliant octogenarians took our small camera crew on a Willy Wonka style tour of their inventions including the world's largest thin film solar cell factory. As we stood under a football field size machine in Troy Michigan, I blustered "Is solar power back?" Stan exclaimed " What?! Solar never went away... What was back was backward thinking!" And as his machine cranked out miles of solar cells above us, we knew he was right.

I'm especially glad that the optimistic last scene of Who Killed the Electric Car has proven that we weren't just wishful thinkers when we finished our edit. The clips feature the first glimpse of the ultra fast Tesla electric sports prototype as well the Zenn neighborhood electric vehicle. Both cars are starting to roll off production lines today. And while the State of California (and some car companies) are still gambling on hydrogen fuel cells, plug-in cars are proving to be more environmentally efficient and popular. Early adopters deserve a lot of the credit. Oil companies and the internal combustion engine monopoly may have "killed" thousands of electric cars (EVs) in the 1990s, but EVs are coming back. (Stay tuned for next film...)

I hope you'll find our documentary takes you on a wild ride out of the 20th century and into the 21st. --Chris Paine, Writer/Director

Special Features

  • 12 Deleted Scenes
  • Documentary: "Jump-Starting the Future"
  • Music Video: Meeky Rosie's "Forever"

Product Details

  • Actors: Martin Sheen
  • Directors: Chris Paine
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: November 14, 2006
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (422 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000I5Y8FU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,546 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Who Killed the Electric Car?" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

A great film about another sorry episode in the history of America's automobile and energy industry. Set as a "Who-Done-It", the film chronicles how short sighted automakers (especially GM) develop great electric cars in response to the California ZEV mandate only to do everything in their power - from suing the state, making ridiculous ads, creating a red-tape filled lease application process - to kill them. Consumers buy bigger and bigger vehicles (whether they need them or not). Government officials and staffers bow to the pressure of intense lobbying, and conflicts of interest. The sad fate of most of the EVs produced during the late '90s to 2002 is revealed.

GM, especially, comes off as incredibly vindictive. What automaker ever tracked down every car of any model and crushed them (not the Corvair, Edsel, etc.)? Even after loyal drivers pleaded to keep them, offering to buy the last remaining EV1s with junk titles at lease buyout prices, GM went out of its way to ensure that the EV1 was history.

The passion of GM's EV specialist Chelsea Sexton for the EV1 makes her the star of the movie. One can only imagine what the engineers who designed the EV1 felt when their babies were being crushed.

But the movie ends on a hopeful note. We may never see the EV1 again, but vehicles using electric drive systems, either as full EVs (which are coming from several start-up companies) or plug-in hybrids, must inevitably roam the roads. The upward trend in gasoline prices, the effects of global warming, the inherent efficiency of electric drive trains, the continued improvement of battery technology, and the upcoming reevaluation of the ZEV Mandate guarantee it.
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This documentary provides a fascinating look at how big corporations can get away with murder. The electric cars were quite popular a decade ago but are now non-existent, this explains why. There were less breakdowns in the electric car and of course no gasoline. The result was that GM could not have people driving around in reliable transportation, where would they make money on repairs? The other factor is oil companies, with no legitimate competitor they could do whatever they wanted and have. Strange that the owners (or leasees since they were not for sale) were not allowed to keep their cars after the California law was repealed. Check it out.
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Well, all you sceptics out there--see it and weep! Yes, there was an incredibly cool, sexy two seater ZEV on the road and no, you didn't get to drive it...but I did. For three years I had the fun (and so did everybody I gave a ride to). Also, with a Time of Usage meter installed on my house, I charged at night (still do) at a lower rate--PLUS, get this, I have a 16 panel solar array on my roof which not only lowers my bill, but means my (gasp!) Toyota RAV4 EV license IM SOLAR is not lying. Clean, clean, clean! See this movie and get those auto makers to give you some more options! Way to go, Chris Paine et al.
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I drove the EV1 for five years, so some might say I am not exactly objective on this subject. Be that as it may, this movie utterly demolishes GM's lame propaganda that nobody wants to drive an EV. GM fully *intended* the EV1 to fail; while it may have cost a billion dollars to develop, that was small potatoes compared to the value (to GM) of destroying California's zero-emission mandate and keeping it from spreading to other states.

Despite extreme scarcity, highly restrictive lease terms and nearly non-existent advertising, the EV1 became an unexpected success. The unbridled enthusiasm of its drivers, splendidly depicted in this movie, so embarassed GM that they eventually recalled and destroyed every EV1 with a vindictiveness that stunned even those of us who thought we harbored no illusions about GM's motives.

The EV1 may be dead, a victim of corporate greed and short-sightedness. But no one who has ever thought seriously about the subject can doubt that the EV will return; the only open question is *when*. Hopefully this movie will remain as an inspiration, and help make that day sooner rather than later.
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Chris Paine does an awesome job telling the story of the modern electric vehicle. This tale should please everybody: It's a love story -- I laughed, I cried. It's a who-done-it mystery. It's about a car that was a real kick in the pants to drive.

Oh, there are a few that won't like it -- they don't like the fact that it didn't use any fossil fuels.

EVs may not be for everybody -- but the ones that were created *SHOULD* have been allowed to be driven and not taken back forcably and then crushed.

GM wonders why it's going bankrupt and Toyota is making money hand-over fist? Toyota didn't allow a market setting product to wither on the vine -- it supported the Prius' slow start and now it's reaping the benefits from that investment. GM could have had that with the massive lead it had in EVs.
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Format: DVD
After looking forward to this informative documentary, I have to admit I first started to roll my eyes. It starts with a funeral scene for the electric car. Now both political sides of me came together and found the ensuing scene loathesome. The conservative in me saw this as simplistic propaganda, and the liberal in me who loves alternative energy wanted to scream that this was fodder for conservative commentators who would pounce at any opportunity to squelch all designs for windmills, solar, and electric fuels. But they quickly redeem themselves. After the insipid funeral scene they turn the documentary into a substantative Whodunit that investigates all the suspects and thoroughly scopes the scene of the crime.

The clues come from the evidence which doesn't add up when so many people were happy with their electric cars. While some of them are articulate celebrities (from Tom Hanks to Mel Gibson) there are many pedestrian people who are just as passionate and down-to-earth about their devotion to the alternatively fueled vehicle. It really comes down to understanding that the automobile industry benefits from a car's shorter longeivity, and the documented demand for more electric cars doesn't square with corporate testimony. Admirably, all counter arguments are given their proper space even as the car's mileage has improved for each recharging. (How many people drive more than 150 miles round trip on an average given day?)

Given the issues at stake: A war that has some energy import, domestic security, high profits for oil companies during leaner times, and a constant need for an improving environment, the case is stacked against the corporations. But, I must say, I haven't given away the entire day in court.
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GM EV1 made the list of "Worst Cars of All Time"!
"Assume a tiny electric car can get 3 miles from each KWh of energy. So a 500miles driving range requires 166.7KWh. To deliver this much energy in 1/12 of an hour..." said NLee. But these assumptions are not realistic. Why would it be important to get a range of 500 miles from a... Read More
Jan 29, 2008 by njdj |  See all 4 posts
Audio or subtitiles in Spanish?
the one i rented only had french subtitles available.
Jul 15, 2008 by McGirt |  See all 2 posts
Good Over-view of the EV1 Debacle Information Resource Link
Hey Bugs, thats exactly what i thought after viewing the movie, but now after pleanty of research i feel GM did the right thing as they pulled the EV1 in order to refine the technology, which will be revelead with their new Cheverlet Volt, due out shortly. The vehicle has an ethanol engine and... Read More
Feb 18, 2008 by Simon Rosser |  See all 4 posts
The History of the Conspiracies Against EV's, Environment and Common Sense
Am I missing something?? How does the advent of the EV shift us away from fossil fuels? Where is the electricity going to come from? Right now more than 50% of the USA's electricity comes from fossil fuel, converting millions of automobiles to electricity is going to greatly increase the demand... Read More
Jul 10, 2007 by TPower |  See all 8 posts
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