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Who Killed the Electric Car? Revisited | Electric Vehicles

In the famous 2006 documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, many suspects are found guilty.  The filmmakers place some blame on each of the following parties for the supposed death of electric vehicles:

  • Oil companies
  • Car companies
  • U.S. government
  • U.S. consumers
  • California Air Resources Board
  • Hydrogen fuel cell

It is important to revisit this film because it lays out some convincing arguments, but unfortunately, many of them are misleading.  As electric vehicles become a truly viable option, we need to stop pointing fingers and move on.  We need to focus on working together to create sound strategies and public policy instead of placing blame.

After all, the General Motors EV1 (which is supposedly killed in the film) was never a truly viable option for the average consumer.  However, the filmmakers want you to believe that the EV1 was the next Model T.  They try to convince the viewer by interviewing a few EV1 lessees who have undying love for their EV1s.  The film suggests that if only the oil companies and other guilty parties hadn’t killed the EV1, everyone in America would own one along with an equally undying love.

Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the opinion of a few early adopters does not reflect public opinion.  In fact, the consulting firm I work for did a representative survey in 2001 that showed that extremely few Californians were willing to purchase an EV1.  At the time, the survey showed that there was substantial interest in this thing called the hybrid though.  Guess what took off in the market?

Don’t believe me?  Don’t believe the survey?  Well, then just take a look at other countries around the globe.  Not a single country has experienced significant market penetration of electric vehicles.

I am not saying that it will not happen.  I actually have a more optimistic view than many of the publicly available market projections for electric vehicles.  We just need to be patient and realize that a technological shift does not happen overnight.

So who killed the electric car?  Nobody did.  A truly viable electric vehicle has not even been born yet.  The EV1 was just a toy for the super rich, not an electric car.  Once the price comes down and quality improves, an electric vehicle will finally be born.  As long as we work together to create sound strategies and public policy, the newborn electric vehicle will have so much momentum that nobody will be able to kill it.