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Who killed the electric car?, a documentary by Chris Paine

A documentary that investigates the birth and -premature?- death of the EV1, an electric car developed by General Motors during the nineties that they stopped producing under curious circumstances.

Why does it seem that only Japanese manufacturers have taken the initiative to develop hybrid vehicles, capable of taking advantage of the energy generated by a conventional motor to charge an electric battery which allows the car to operate with more autonomy and efficiency?

The documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?, produced by Sony Pictures, offers us an answer to the apparent commercial and technological leadership of the Japanese in the booming market for more energy efficient cars: perhaps owing more (or, at least, we‘ll remain in doubt for posterity) to the discredit of the U.S. than to Japanese technological reliability.

The work of the American director Chris Paine powerfully narrates how the Detroit automakers, with General Motors at the head, initially promoted the first technically viable electric car with commercial value only to later suspend production of the EV1.

Subsequently, alleging the commercial failure of the vehicle, not only did they take it off the market, but all the model EV1’s produced and marketed were recalled to the factory to be, subsequently, crushed.

One could attribute to the gigantic General Motors behavior from Greek mythology, which perhaps frightened by its own creation, decided to put an end to it before it became too powerful.

Instead of continuing to bet on electricity, GM joined the rest of the auto industry to promote hydrogen vehicle development: hydrogen requires the use of wholesale distribution centers, and its production on a grand scale can‘t be accomplished in less than a decade.

Chris Paine is capable of explaining the position of a Detroit activist group without abusing the use of first person narration and supporting the story with solid statements from people involved in its history, clients, specialists and many others.

GM’s EV1 was an agile electric car that could be charged in the garage and allowed an autonomy so that the average American could commute from home to work, as confirmed in the documentary by some of its famous temporary owners, among them actors, scientists and other American liberal professionals.

Their mobility was due exclusively to electric power, with which the battery could be recharged without the need to rely on companies that, as with fossil fuels, act as intermediaries.

The EV1, indirectly responsible for the strength of the Prius?

The reason for the Japanese industry’s control of the development of energy efficient and hybrid vehicles: due to the successes of Detroit in the development of models and prototypes like the electric car the EV1, Toyota, Honda and other Japanese manufacturers initiated multimillion dollar programs in order to compete in the development of vehicles increasingly less dependent on fossil fuels.

While General Motors and other North American manufacturers abandoned the projects they had begun at the beginning of the nineties, after the arrival of a federal government more comfortable with the oil industry, George W. Bush, the Japanese manufacturers decided to release to market the fruits of their technological efforts.

As a consequence, the hybrid sedan Toyota Prius had sold more than 750,000 units worldwide as of August 2006. The United States is the major world market for these cars.


  • Title: Who Killed the Electric Car? (also: EV Confidential)

  • Director: Chris Paine

  • Company: Sony Pictures

  • Genre: documentary

  • Duration: 92 minutes

  • Year: 2006


  • More information about Who Killed the Electric Car, in WikipediaIMDb.

  • More information about the General Motors electric vehicle the EV1, in Wikipedia.

  • Official Note from General Motors about the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? and the “lessons learned” by the company during the development and removal from the market of the EV1 (note the importance that GM gives to the development of hydrogen vehicles, whose controversial viability is analyzed in this same documentary).