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Who Killed the Electric Car?, narrated by Martin Sheen

Who Killed the Electric Car: Movie Review

Genre: Documentary
Directed by: Chris Paine
Starring: Martin Sheen, Mel Gibson
Released by: Papercut Films

In Short: Documentary filmmaker Chris Paine takes an in-depth look into the demise of the electric car industry at the beginning of the last decade in this insightful and eyebrow-raising automotive whodunit.

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Chronicling the Life and Untimely Death of the General Motors EV1
An Automotive Murder Mystery

ith the proliferation of hybrid cars in the market and a small army of much-hyped electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf set to storm American showrooms in the near future, it's easy to take our gas-free rides for granted. However, only a few short years ago, the electric vehicle was not only much less visible — it was on the verge of extinction. Originally released in 2006, Chris Paine's Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicles the life and untimely death of General Motor's EV1, which became the first mass-produced, mass-marketed electric vehicle upon release in 1996.

A General Motors EV1 at a funeral for electric cars staged by EV supporters Mel Gibson, an electric vehicle supporter, is interviewed in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Presented by Paine as an automotive whodunit, the story of the EV1 and other electric-drive models who met a similar fate at the beginning of the last decade is filled with lies, deceit, and enough crushed electric cars to (literally) drive EV enthusiasts mad. However, apart from one ominous — if over the top — scene showing a funeral for the electric car, the documentary is really less film noir and more Franz Kafka in its bleak depiction of government bureaucracy and the big business juggernaut that ultimately led to the demise of the first wave of commercially-released electric cars. Slandered by big oil, sabotaged by the Bush administration and California Air Resources Board, and finally abandoned by its own makers, the electric car appears to have been doomed from the start.

While this tale of corporate greed and corruption can be quite disheartening, Paine assures us that there is a battery-powered halogen headlamp at the end of the fossil fuel-filled tunnel. Looking to grassroots organizations like Plug In America, to ever-improving battery and drivetrain technology, and most notably to the growing class of hybrid cars like the then-new Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, Who Killed the Electric Car? ultimately leaves the viewer with a strong sense of hope for the future. And lucky for us, the future is now.

Reviewed by Nick Winfrey

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