Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who really killed the electric car?

I promised to write something more than just a rant about who really killed the electric car. I had not read Mark Rechtin's review in Automotive News before I saw the movie (see readers responce here). I think that Rechtin makes a good point that instead of engaging in conspiracy theories, the filmmakers could have done a much better job of bringing out the complex technical, economic and social aspect of automobile purchase, and use. A similar, but slightly more angrier sounding take comes from MotorAlley.

I agree with Rechtin and Wasserman on many points. The acquittal of batteries in the movie is quite surprising. The batteries used in EV1 were not up for the job a regular that is expected of an internal combustion engine powered car. It is true that battery technology continues to improve, but even the current Ni-MH batteries would not lead to a satisfactory vehicle performance. Could the next generation of Li-Ion batteries do the job? Possible, but not yet certain since there are a number of cost and safety issues involved.

It is not unvcommon to find a small but highly motivated group of individuals who are supporting a cause such as the group portrayed in the movie. It should be noted, however, that a mere expression of interest by 4000 people in the state of California does not mean that there was a real market for EV1. Most Americans demand not only acceleration and fuel economy, but a number of other vehicle attributes such as interior and luggague space, safety, increasingly automatic and electronic features that consume more power, reliability, convenience and yes, least I should forget, low initial cost of purchase. Neither the EV1, nor other EVs in the movie fit that bill well.

The movie was quite critical of Alan Lloyd and California Air resources Board (CARB) in general. In the end, we should all remember that it was CARB which effectively mandated EVs with its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rule. As the movie notes, CARB got the idea after seeing a GM demonstration vehicle at an auto show. If CARB is to be blamed, then the blame should lie with the original ZEV ruling which was too optimistic in its estimate of development of electric vehicle technology. Even with the compromise with automakers, the ZEV rule has not been a complete failure. It can be very easily argued that the development of hybrid vehicles by Honda and Toyota would not have been as quick had the ZEV rule not been in place. In short, the CARB was at least partly successful in its technology forcing goal.

Of course, I have noted far too often that the hybrid vehicles, even after being on the market for several years, currently account for less than 1.5% of new vehicle sales. Even with the kind of buzz that hybrids have generated, there are several skeptics. Quite simply, they make a strong argument that even at 3 dollar a gallon of gasoline, the hydrid vehicles just barely make economic sense for a consumer with lower than average discount rate. The fact is that mainstream vehicle technology keeps getting better, and it is hard for newer technologies to break in to the market.

All this being said, my gripe with a movie like Who Killed the Electric Car? lies in the fact that they perpetrate the myth that somehow we are going to solve our energy, and specially oil, problems by means of technology alone. If we are to get serious about challenging the ever increasing petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, not only will we need better technology, but we will need a change in behavior and strong fiscal and regulatory policy measures that will induce the change. Too often our attention is foucsed on having our cake and eating it too. It is time to stop living in the wonderland.


Blogger Steven Peters said...


I agree that technology isn't going to solve all our problems; behavior change will have to occur, but I think the popularity of the EV1 despite its limited range and cargo space indicates the willingness of some people at least to alter their driving behavior with energy consequences in mind. If we aren't going to wait for technology to save us, why not build some more EV1's and let people change their driving habits?


11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think this gentleman Anup, has ommited (and he want to do this) a very important aspect. He ommited to answer a simple questions: Why GM take "all" cars and smash it??, and dont let the people decide what to do?
Because is something more behind all those facts, and Mr. Anup ..or is stupid, or he want to fool us.
The problem is....he we going down..and EARTH couldn support all that we do.

No name, no fame

12:17 PM  
Anonymous patrick said...

Watched "Who Killed the Electric Car" recently (great documentary), then i heard that GM and Tesla are making another run at the electric car (yay for progress!) hopefully development of this technology can go on unhindered by the corporations that depend on oil consumption.

1:51 PM  
Blogger kimberly said...

The electric car in a great innovation nowadays, i think is a goop option not only to save money even more now the fuel is very expensive, but it could work to save our planet of the pollution environment. i think costa rica investment opportunities must be approach.

1:10 AM  
Anonymous unbrako distributors said...

That is because electric cars and even hybrids costs a lot more than their petroleum powered counterparts. This technology is still in its beginning stage. We can wait for it to improve and become cheaper for the meantime.

12:59 AM  
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Blogger alice copper said...

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7:23 AM  
Blogger Dwayne Charles said...

I think that the only reason for the failure of the electronic and hybrid cars is the effects to the environmental conditions and the less fuel efficiency.
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7:43 AM  

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