Who killed the electric car?

I only saw Who Killed The Electric Car? this year. Someone posted this in a poll on conspiracy theories: ‘Car companies have sabotaged the implementation of the electric car.’

The film makes compelling arguments that car companies, or at least GM, did sabotage the implementation of the EV-1. I lived in L.A., and frequently saw at least one EV-1 on my commute to Orange. Owners did not want to surrender their cars, and there was a waiting list of buyers who were never able to buy one. I recall from the film that GM on its own did not kill the EV-1. The conclusion was that the electric car was killed by car companies (GM, in this example), oil companies, the Federal government, the California Air Resources Board, the promise of hydrogen fuel cells (still not realised), and consumers. Battery technology was found ‘not guilty’.

It’s been quite a long time since the demise of the EV-1 and the release of Who Killed The Electric Car?. We have the Nissan Leaf, and I actually saw a Tesla in the wild Saturday. While it’s not an electric car, I’ve been driving a Prius for over half a decade now; and I see Chevy Volts, Honda Civics, Ford Escapes, and other hybrids on the road. Given my driving needs, I cannot use an electric car as they exist today. Still, they have enough range for most people’s needs unless they want to take a road trip. With more electric cars coming out, I wouldn’t say they’re ‘dead’. Maybe not even ‘mostly dead’. I think that they are gaining ground, albeit very slowly.

Back to the poll question that prompted this thread. Car companies fight every attempt by government to make them increase the average mileage of their vehicles. Some were late jumping on the hybrid bandwagon, and the only pure electric car by a major manufacturer I can think of is the Leaf. Given that the car companies always fight more regulation, as it pertains to fuel economy, is it reasonable to say that ‘Car companies have sabotaged the implementation of the electric car’?

When things like this get written, it always amazes me that you didn’t ask yourself, why?

For what benefit does GM want to sabotage the electric car?

Profit? A loss of profit? They are beholden to the gas companies and it’s a big conspiracy?
The bottom line is that if there were enough demand and the profit margin was such that money could be made, we would be mass producing electric cars.

We aren’t so there isn’t.

To me it’s pretty simple.

Consumers and reality killed it at that time. I’ve seen the show and I seem to recall at least one thread on this in the past if someone feels like searching for it. The bottom line though is the show had a lot of exaggerations in it, especially about the EV1. GM didn’t kill the electric car by not allowing people to keep their EV1’s or by not making more. Just common sense would show that if electric vehicles were viable way back then (IIRC we are talking about the 90’s) someone would have made the things to make money. And if they were viable back then, how come we STILL don’t have a viable, cheap and affordable model today? Did they forget how to make the things or is the CT still ongoing, with car companies unwilling to bring out their REAL electric car technology to try and make more money for Big Oil™?? :dubious:

I always wondered why GM purportedly teamed up with gas companies, and not electric companies.
General Motors + General Electric = huge profits, no?

I see a lot of hydrogen talk online, and people always seem to overlook the problem of storing it.
Making it is easy enough, if you have unlimited electricity, but safely storing hydrogen is far more problematic then storing gasoline.

I was reading an article last week that purported that realistic hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure are right around the corner, but that the price point for them to be competitive is something like $4.50/gallon on gas which still isn’t here.

That I think is the answer. I’d guess that most people take road trips at some point, so you’ve either delegated the electric car to the second car of two car families only, or people have to deal with the hassle and expense of renting a car when they want to drive out of the city. Electric battery technology both then and now isn’t at a point where you can take a road trip with an electric car. Most people want one vehicle that can meet all their needs, that’s one of the reasons you see so many single occupant SUVs and pickups driving to work, they don’t want to rent a different vehicle to haul their boat or a load of wood chips on the weekend.

Do you happen to have a link, or do you recall how they plan to store the hydrogen?
Last I heard, it really wasn’t a solvable problem, but OTOH lots of people are interested in making money from it.

Or it could be mismanagement, or short-sightedness.

You know how I go on and on about Textron Cessna. The demand is there, but they are not building enough airplanes to meet the demand. High prices drive down demand, so they keep building few airplanes. Low production makes for higher production costs, which have to be passed on to the consumer. Since the airplanes are too expensive for the target market, Textron’s business practices are slowly killing private flying.

Any new product is going to have high production costs and low sales to start. As more products are made and people find that they want the products, prices come down. Computers are a prime example. Early on, they were expensive and few people had them. Now they’re cheap and everyone has one or more.

Let me be clear: I am not saying there was a conspiracy at GM or any other carmaker. Maybe there was. Or maybe it was just a missed opportunity. Also, as noted, even if there was an internal ‘conspiracy’ to kill the EV-1, there were several other factors. So not having an opinion as to whether GM sabotaged the EV-1, I’m asking if there is sufficient evidence that they did. If they did, was it intentional? Or was it just that TPTB could not foresee the increasing market?

I thought the canonical answer to this question was the Stonecutters.

I’ll see if I can find the article, but I don’t see why it should be a big problem. Hydrogen is corrosive, but it’s just an engineering problem…and one that’s already been solved, since you can buy hydrogen gas today for various things (I’ve seen it in bottles for labs quite often). It’s not any more dangerous to store than gasoline…probably less so.

At any rate, I think Toyota has already got working hydrogen filling stations in Japan for their own test cars, and I think there are even some in the states.

New technology is always expensive. Early adopters pay a premium. It’s been shown that as more of a thing is produced, prices come down and production costs and selling prices come down. (Cite: Henry Ford.)

I agree that consumers helped to kill them. I said in the OP that I can’t use an electric car, because I have a 220-mile round-trip twice a week. I need the range. I can’t afford to be an early adopter, since I have to a long-range car as well as an electric one.

I suspect that if the EV-1 had not been aborted, it would have become more popular (see the Nissan Leaf) and the range would have been improved over time.

I found one of the articles I remembered from the last time this subject came up (haven’t found the old thread yet). It’s from Motor Trend debunking the show:

You can read the whole article using the link above if you are interested.

Hydrogen molecules are so small and slippery they can get into the crystal lattice of a metal storage tank.
Over time, this leads to a breakdown of the material and eventually can result in catastrophic failure.
Maintenance and supervision and special knowledge can reduce the risk, but obviously there are costs involved.

Same is true to some extent with gasoline, there are storage challenges. But we’ve developed methods to store and use it over time.
So far, there hasn’t been much practical development of consumer-level hydrogen technology.

…is what I had gathered from prior reading. I’m wondering if there’s been a shift in technology somewhere.

A quick google search turned up this list of current hydrogen filling stations. Doesn’t seem to be an insoluble problem, to be honest. The REAL problem is scaling up and the chicken and egg problem. That and the fact you have to make the hydrogen of course.

It is true that General Motors ‘killed’ the EV-1. This wasn’t, however, because of any kind of collusion between the automotive industry and the petroleum industry, or backroom politics, or whatever. It is because the EV-1 was an experiment that turned out to be unprofitable. Leasees complained that GM would not sell them the vehicles once the lease was up and point to this as part of the conspiracy, but the truth is that GM simply didn’t want to have to maintain an inventory of replacement parts and service notices.

People now like to point at the Tesla as evidence that a pure electric car is practical and affordable; however, the Tesla is actually a counterexample. It’s affordability (if you can state that a car with a base driveaway cost of over US$60k is ‘affordable’) is due to government tax incentives and almost zero interest lones granted to Tesla. At a US$30k replacement cost on the Li-ion battery pack alone, the Tesla is not affordable by any reasonable definition 90% of car owners, and limitations on range, operating temperature, et cetera make it impractical as a general replacement for internal combustion powered personal vehicles.

All of the enthusiasm over electric vehicles misses several salient points, including the fact that the power density of electric batteries doesn’t approach gasoline, diesel, DME or methanol by an order of magnitude even with the best projections of near future developement; electric vehicles are suitable only for use in warm climates as battery power output drops dramatically at even moderately low temperatures; the materials and processing for Li-ion batteries is very near the optimal economy of scale and will not improve dramatically in either cost or efficiency; electric vehicles will continue to have range limitations which makes them suitable for only moderate range commuting; electric vehicles require a significant amount of time to recharge, and schemes for replaceable battery packs all suffer from practical and logistical limitations.

Regardless of how the technology of electric vehicles improves, we will still need hydrocarbon fuels of some kind for long distance road and ocean transportation of bulk and heavy goods, and there needs to be substantial investent into synthetic liquid fuels like methonal, dimethyl ether, and propane which are readily storable using modifications of the existing fuel processing and distribution infrastructure as well as being usable by modest adaptations of existing combustion engines. Until someone comes up with a technomagical electric energy storage device which can equal or exceed the energy density of even low energy hydrocrabon fuels, the electric vehicle is not practical for all but a narrow range of transportation uses, and focusing on it to the exclusion of other fuel technologies retards progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing truly sustainable renewable energy storage resources.


It’s plausible in commercial vehicles, buses or whatnot. Anything that gets regular scheduled professional maintenance.
But it’s a higher level of diligence than you can expect from the general public, or has been so far.

Yeah, that’s a whole other thing. People seem to think that coal might be the workaround, we burn coal to create electricity to generate hydrogen, instead of using gasoline. I can see that being economical if oil dries up suddenly, but it doesn’t seem like something we can ease into gradually.
Personally I’m hoping we can get to using fusion power. If that happens maybe then we can get to hydrogen fuel at the consumer level.

No, aNewLeaf had the fundamental problems with using hydrogen as a transportation fuel essentially correct. In addition to leakage and hydrogen embrittlement of many common alloys, the energy density of gaseous hydrogen is tragically low, and even with liquification (requiring cryogenic storage) or storage in a matrix the energy density is not even as good as electric batteries.

And before anyone starts throwing around cites which sort-of-but-not-really prove some kind of tangential point, I will state unequivically that I know of what I speak. I have dealt with the use of liquid hydrogren (LH[SUB]2[/SUB]) as a propellant in rocket engines and even in this application where large volumes are handled under tightly controlled and monitored conditions LH[SUB]2[/SUB] is an enormous pain in the ass, less because of the explosion hazard (it does egress upward so it doesn’t settle) as much as the cryogenic hazards, the previously mentioned embrittlement of fuel lines, seals, valves, and anything else it comes into contact with, low density requiring high dead weight of tankage, and the losses during storage. This is why, except for a very small number of launch vehicles none of which are in current service, hydrogen is not used as a propellant on the first stage.

The ‘hydrogen economy’ as a transportation fuel substitute is just a bunch of handwaving. There may be other uses for hydrogen as an energy storage medium, but it makes a very poor fuel for vehicle applications.


Ford has an electric Focus. There also appear to be electrics by Mitsubishi (MiEV) and Toyota (Rav4). Do those count as major manufacturers?

Two words: Interlocking directorates.

And yet that link shows that hydrogen filling stations are already out there. How do they get around these insoluble problems of which you speak? Why don’t they know of these issues you bring up? Why has Toyota spent billions of dollars on developing this technology if all they had to do was ask you on this message board about it and you could have simply told them they were wasting their money?