Who killed the electric car (redux)

I went and saw Who Killed the Electric Car for a second time last night (I wrote a review after my first viewing), and again was impressed with the film. Both last night, and on first viewing, there were a few questions left unanswered for me.

The first was how much GM spent on R&D on the car. The second was how many leases were actually granted. The third was less a question, and more a hypothesis – perhaps GM couldn’t continue to service and maintain the cars for some reason, and that’s why they pulled the cars off the road (Ang mentioned this to me as well last night after seeing the film).

Today I went wandering on the net, mainly to find info on the Venturi Fétish which was briefly highlighted at the end of the film (alongside the Tesla Roadster, which has got a lot more press recently), and found this response from GM on GM’s blog.

It answers all of those questions: GM claims they spent $1 billion on developing and marketing the car. 800 vehicles were leased in a four year period. And support of the vehicle was a part of their decision making process.

GM obviously made a lot of mistakes with the EV1 – and they acknowledge they didn’t handle the recall at all well. But it is interesting to see that the technology in the EV1 has found its way into other initiatives at GM – like their hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell projects. This latter fact was mentioned by Joel Makower in his recent piece on progress in hydrogen cars. But GM also point out EV1 technology is also supporting their hybrids program.

I’m still unconvinced that hydrogen fuel cells are the way forward (all that I’ve read indicates the energy required to create hydrogen is far greater than required to charge a battery). I can’t help but think the push for hydrogen is both a delaying tactic from car manufacturers and a strategy of big oil (it requires a fuel, after all, which means they can stay in business).

And the more I read Tesla’s blog, the more I think that electric cars are the best choice moving forward. (Even though the blog is technical in nature, their arguments make a lot of sense to me.)

Even if their approach is questionable in many respects (the film does a great job of pointing out some odd decisions along the way – I won’t repeat them here), GM does deserve some credit for giving it a go. It still doesn’t explain some of their decisions (like, why the crushed the cars, rather than recycle them the way they said they would), but it is worth recognising the fact that they are the only major car manufacturer that have released an all-electric vehicle to date – and did it at a time where such things were thought nearly impossible. GM have lost the plot of late (even in Australia where Holden are now importing the Humvee) – but it seems there was a time when they recognised the need for vehicles like the EV1.

Although for a majority of the film I felt frustrated and angry, the end still lifted my spirits – but perhaps too little too late. (Although I must say that the inventor of the batteries for the EV1, Stan Ovshinsky, is a real character – he made me smile and inspired me a lot.)

The anger and frustration came from the sense that the political climate and “consumer culture” in which we live throttle so many exciting developments. I do hope we can ultimately overcome these issues, and that the electric car will become a commercial reality soon – giving us real options to fight pollution, global warming and rising fuel prices.

Despite its biases, the movie remains thought provoking and created some great conversations with friends after the film. I think I talked more about the film and had more thoughts about it than I did with An Inconvenient Truth. And if that’s all it does, I think it has served an honourable purpose. Definitely worth checking out – highly recommended.