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The Green Life: Pulling The Plug

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April 24, 2006

Pulling The Plug

Who Killed the Electric Car? The sporty two-seater looked (and performed) like something out of the Jetsons. Speedy and practically silent, it used no gas or oil and required hardly any maintenance. General Motors invented it--and then almost immediately tried to conceal or destroy any evidence that the EV-1, the first modern battery-electric vehicle, ever existed.

GM wasn't the only culprit in the death of the EV-1. Director Chris Paine examines the roles of various "suspects"--including oil companies, consumers, and the federal government--in his new film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I got a peek at the documentary, which will be in wider release in late June, at a sold-out screening this weekend with the San Francisco International Film Festival. To my taste, the movie relied a bit too much on talking heads to be a great piece of cinema, but Paine tries to keep things lively with his "murder mystery" structure, and the rarely-told story of the EV-1's short life is certainly compelling.

Especially (and surprisingly) touching is the passion of former drivers interviewed for the film--a "funeral" staged for the car seems hokey until you realize the depths of their love for the EV-1 and the real senselessness of its demise. One of the most revealing stories, however, wasn’t even in the film: In a post-screening Q & A with members of the crew, we learned that the arrest of a couple of activists (while trying to stop GM from destroying the decommissioned cars) so incensed the judge handling their case that he sentenced them to community service--promoting electric vehicles.

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