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Week of 6.9.06

Who Killed the Electric Car?

This week, NOW talks to director Chris Paine about his upcoming documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" The film looks at the hopeful birth and untimely death of the electric car, an environmentally-friendly, cost-saving salvation to some, but a profit barrier to others.

In a film that has all the elements of a murder mystery, Paine points the finger at car companies, the oil industry, bad ad campaigns, consumer wariness, and a lack of commitment from the U.S. government.

"[The film] is about why the only kind of cars that we can drive run on oil. And for a while there was a terrific alternative, a pure electric car," Paine said.

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In 1996, General Motors (G.M.) launched the first modern-day commercially available electric car, the EV1. The car required no fuel and could be plugged in for recharging at home and at a number of so-called battery parks.

Many of the people who leased the car, including a number of celebrities, said the car drove like a dream.

"...the EV1 was a high performer. It could do a U-turn on a dime; it was incredibly quiet and smooth. And it was fast. I could beat any Porsche off the line at a stoplight. I loved it," Actress, Alexandra Paul told NOW.

After California regulators saw G.M.s electric car in the late 1980s, they launched a zero-emissions vehicle program in 1990 to clean up the state's smoggy skies.

Under the program, two percent of all new cars sold had to be electric by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003.

But it was not to be. A little over 1,000 EV1s were produced by G.M. before the company pulled the plug on the project in 2002 due to insufficient demand. Other major car makers also ceased production of their electric vehicles.

In the wake of a legal challenge from G.M. and DaimlerChrysler, California amended its regulations and abandoned its goals. Shortly thereafter, automakers began reclaiming and dismantling their electrics as they came off lease.

Actress Alexandra Paul in her EV1, G.M.'s electric car.
Actress Alexandra Paul in her EV1, G.M.'s electric car.
Some suggest that G.M. -- which says it invested some $1 billion in the EV1 -- never really wanted the cars to take off. They say G.M. intentionally sabotaged their own marketing efforts because they feared the car would cannibalize its existing business. G.M. disputes these claims.

Take a trip with us this week as we find out more about why the electric car slipped off the road. Next time on NOW.

"Who Killed the Electric Car" appears in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on June 28th and in other theaters throughout the country sometime this summer.

For more on the film, visit Who Killed the Electric Car?