Los Angeles Times

Filmmakers Know 'Who Killed the Electric Car'


People who weren't living in California in 1996 may have a little difficulty with the basic premise of Chris Paine's documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

"I think we made the movie first to like let people know that the electric car existed in the first place, because most people don't even know there was an electric car," Paine admits.

A murder mystery with an environmentally friendly slant, "Electric Car" is the tragic story of General Motors' EV1, a vehicle that was launched in 1996 in response to California's Zero Emissions Mandate and pulled from the road within six years.

The EV1 may not have lasted very long or have been driven very far, but it earned some powerful allies, including Mel Gibson, Peter Horton and Ed Begley Jr. Another devoted EV1 owner was movie producer Dean Devlin, whose Hollywood blockbusters -- including "Godzilla" and "Independence Day" -- have probably devoured more than their share of gas. Devlin, who produced "Electric Car" was eager to get to the bottom of the mystery.

"I've always lived by this philosophy when it comes to conspiracies, never to attribute to deviousness, that which can be explained by incompetence," Devlin opines. "And I think that the story of the murder of the electric car is a combination of incompetence and deviousness and it comes from many directions. That's why we felt compelled to tell the story, because it wasn't as easy as saying 'Well, the oil companies killed it.' Sure. Big part of it. But there were a lot of hands in this murder."

But bottom line, Chris, who killed the electric car?

"By the very nature of the design of the electric car, the electronics age that we're in, they created the most advanced cars that were ever on the road," Paine says. "In doing so, they created a car that was directly in conflict with the way car companies make money, with the way oil industry makes money and with a lot of other status quo interests, so they went after these cars and destroyed them."

But the documentary doesn't just indict car companies, or other usual suspects like oil interests or big government. It debunks supposed myths that dare suggest that the electric car couldn't drive fast enough or far enough or well enough for the needs of most consumers.

"We're talking about a car that's 10 years old, a car that was way better than people thought, but still a 10-year-old car," Devlin says. "If we were having the same discussion about the Prius of 1996, that's a pretty lousy car, but the Prius of today is a very good car. Had the car companies continued to do generation two, generation three, generation four of the EV-1, we'd be looking at a spectacular car today."

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" arrives in theaters on the heels of Davis Guggenheim's Gore-fest "An Inconvenient Truth," another Earth-friendly documentary that has already become one of the most successful films ever released in its genre. Is there room in the marketplace for two Green-thinking features in the same summer?

"Our hope is that that documentary really helps set the table for the problem and that our documentary could give us a possible solution," Devlin notes.

"Who Killed the Electric Car?" is now in limited release.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times