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"Who Killed the Electric car?"


Do you remember the EV1? Maybe not. Even if you do, your memories might not jibe with those few who actually drove one. They wanted to keep their cars, but General Motors, the manufacturer, wanted to get rid of them. The documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" tries to figure out why, and it's enjoyable even though we get the sense the filmmakers already know the answer.

The first generation of the car came out in the 1990s, and 800 were eventually leased to consumers, many of them celebrities (the car was available only in California and Arizona). None were actually sold, and GM, whose Saturn division manufactured and serviced the vehicles, would begin rounding them all up after the initial three-year test.

Contrary to the assertion by GM and others that there was no demand, former EV1 owners interviewed pleaded with the company to keep their cars. All of them lost. Their cars, along with ones never driven, were destroyed. As one interviewee puts it, they just didn't want any of these cars driving around reminding people that electric vehicles really exist.

There are lots of reasons for the electric car's demise, and "Killed" breaks them into several "suspects," including manufacturers, oil companies, politicians and uninformed consumers. The most obvious is that every all-electric vehicle produced means a reduction in profits for oil companies. But a more interesting problem was recognized by the manufacturers themselves, who realized that creating a solution for something meant admitting a problem — one they helped create. They became schizophrenic in their efforts to develop and market the car as they simultaneously undermined it. So along with sabotage attempts by big oil and the squeamishness of government officials, we got advertisements suggesting that owning the vehicle of the future meant living down the street from the Road Warrior.

"Killed," narrated by Martin Sheen, is more than an average documentary about a pet issue. It uses its misunderstood subject to reveal a lot about many of the predicaments we find society in today. It's one of the few documentaries I've wanted to see again. (PG) **** — Wayne Melton

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