The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, July 28, 2006


This evening I had the opportunity to see “Who Killed the Electric Car?” -- a worthwhile documentary (playing at theatres nationally) that chronicles the rise and unfortunate demise of the zero emissions vehicles (ZEV, aka the electric car). The story begins in California during the 1990s and early years of this century. During that time, California mandated that every automobile manufacturer had to sell a small and slowly escalating percentage of ZEVs in addition to its other vehicles. The intent was to cut air pollution.

GM and other US manufacturers approached the mandate in what can only be characterized as a passive-aggressive manner. With no real interest in any vehicle except those that were gasoline-powered, the automobile manufacturers developed ZEVs that were competent alternatives to automobiles with internal combustion engines. But at the same time that idealistic teams of young engineers and marketers were developing the ZEV, the automobile manufacturers were planning infanticide. The new technology was doomed before it ever had a chance to succeed.

If you have interest in the rest of this fascinating and deeply troubling story, I urge you to see the movie. By the way, unlike Michael Moore’s biased polemics that masquerade as documentaries, the director of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, Chris Paine, presents a reasonably balanced account that places the blame squarely on state and federal government, the General Motors Corporation, and US consumers.

In reality the auto companies never intended to build a significant market for the ZEV. Why? Because the ZEV, if popularized, threatened every link of the automobile and oil manufacturing, production, distribution, and service chain. Politically powerful interests felt threatened, and when that happens, the politicians that they own do what only politicians can do – they killed an idea that would have been good for our country.

The film ends on an optimistic note, suggesting that the ZEV is not dead, just dormant. In fact, I noticed that Toyota has announced that they intend to have a plug-in hybrid (a ZEV for short hauls with a hybrid for longer trips) on the market in about two years.

As we left the theatre, a group of ZEV activists were out front displaying a Toyota RAV 4 ZEV that is no longer produced (yes, sadly Toyota was also complicit) but is currently available used via Ebay at prices ranging from $45,000 to $60,000. If mass produced, this same vehicle would likely sell in the $20K - $30K range. The RAV 4 ZEV looked like any other RAV 4 you see on the street.

I struck up a conversation with the young man who owned the ZEV and asked him how he got service for the vehicle. He laughed. “With the exception of going to the local Toyota dealer once a year to rotate the tires and change the wiper blades,” he said, “this vehicle requires no real service. If you do the math, I’m driving a car in 2006 whose “gasoline” costs me the equivalence of about $0.65 per gallon. Even better, I never have to go to a gas station. Ever. That’s pretty good, huh.”

Yeah … that’s pretty good. Too bad 10 or 20 million other US drivers haven’t been given the same opportunity. If they had, there’d be less money paid for gasoline, and that translates directly into less money in the pockets of totalitarian Islamic states who fund barbaric Islamofascist terrorist organizations. Yeah … that sounds pretty good to me.