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New electric car film is…electric

Electric carWho killed the electric car? That’s both the title and the question at the heart of Chris Paine’s remarkable whodunit documentary on the history of the electric automobile.

The film, which traces the development of the electric car from its popularity in the early 1900s to its near-death in 2003, drew a packed audience and received a standing ovation at the recent San Francisco Film Festival.

For many, the electric car represents both hope for the future and a crushing example of how industry incumbents exert pressure on politicians to eradicate potentially viable environmental products from the marketplace.

Why did the auto industry, which started pushing electric cars in the mid-1990s, suddenly ask for the keys back to all their leased electrics, even when so many owners wanted to purchase them? I remember sitting in a new electric vehicle in 1997 and thinking it was the start of a revolution.

Look around the road today and you’ll be hard-pressed to spot a single one. The story is too complex to do justice to here, involving automakers, the oil industry, consumers, and the California Air Resources Board. You’ll have to wait until this compelling documentary opens nationwide on June 28th.

After the movie, I hitched a ride to the after-party in a 100+ mpg plug-in hybrid electric Prius provided by CalCars. There, the assembled crowd of electric vehicle owners talked about their cars with both passion and unmistakeable affection. One EV owner said he was living in “utopia” and spoke of the transformative power of using the solar panels on his house to fuel his commute. Sun to roof to car. Pretty simple and amazing stuff.

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