Once upon a time, an acquaintance of mine tried driving across England in a 15-year-old Citroen rigged to run on cooking oil – recycled chip fat, to be precise. Its arteries clogged with grease, the engine seized up not far into the journey, but my environmentally conscious friend might not have had to resort to such measures had the electric car had a longer, happier life on this overheated earth. In 1990, the state of California adopted a modest zero-emissions resolution; later that decade, General Motors responded with the EV-1, a battery-powered contraption that, for the few years it was available for lease-only in California and Arizona, inspired great enthusiasm from high-profile customers including Mel Gibson. Despite the inevitable hiccups that come with any new technology, compared to its gas-guzzling brethren, the electric car was cleaner, cheaper, easier to maintain, and far more environmentally and ethically sound. It just had to die.
The EV-1 is the beloved subject of Chris Paine’s documentary, which appeared earlier this summer in the States as petrol prices were skyrocketing in inverse proportion to George W Bush’s approval ratings. ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’ features a tongue-in-cheek funeral for the EV-1 and proceeds as a murder mystery; it’s heavy on talking heads and hit-or-miss humour, but the movie also carries a surprising emotional weight, as the litany of corporate greed and willful stupidity piles up as depressingly as the stacks of EV-1s that GM recalled and crushed a few years back. Like his leftie-doc compatriots Michael Moore and Robert Greenwald, Paine is preaching to the choir, but the sermon should be heard nonetheless.