This evening, after having the physical DVD from Netflix at our house for several months, I finally watched the outstanding 2006 documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” This is an excellent film, which can inspire audiences to activism much like the 2003 documentary, “The Corporation.” I have several thoughts as well as links I’d like to share after watching this movie, but first I’ll offer my overall response: Bring on the EVs (electric vehicles,) EV Conversion Kits, ZERO Emissions Cars and Plug-In Hybrids! I’ve made a couple videos in the past few years about electric cars and their benefits. I’m sure these won’t be the last!

This past May, a devastating hailstorm in Oklahoma City totaled my less than 1 year old (for me) 2006 Honda Hybrid car.

Rearview glass damaged on my car by hail

I loved this car. It regularly got over 40 miles to the gallon, and sometimes (depending on driving conditions) could get close to 50 MPG. It had a range about twice that of my old Toyota 4Runner, and was fun to drive as well. If our family circumstances were different, I would have loved to replace that car with a used Toyota Prius or a fully electric car. Miles Electric, the company whose car I test drove in the first video above (in April 2009) has a Tulsa, Oklahoma, office. At the time I made this video with my kids, they had plans to bring a highway speed vehicle to market. Currently their website shows they are only selling low speed cars and trucks. I would love to find out more about their plans for higher speed vehicles. I don’t foresee income for our family in the near term which would let me buy a Tesla car, so options like those of Miles Electric seemed to be my best bet.

Thanks to this documentary, however, I’m now aware of a few more options. First, there is the option of getting an “Electric vehicle conversion” or EV kit. The film said the cost of these can be about $8000, to take a “regular” gas-powered car and convert it to a fully electric vehicle. Although certainly expensive, an EV conversion looks to be far cheaper than a new $33K Chevy Volt.

Before watching this documentary, I (like most people in the world, I’d guess) had never heard of the General Motors EV1 car. What a beautiful car!

Who Killed The Electric Car?
Creative Commons License photo credit: TimothyJ

It is a tragedy that GM destroyed these vehicles following the end of their consumer leases in 1999, ostensibly so more consumer demand would NOT grow for zero emission EV cars. That story is, of course, the major theme of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” The photos and video of the crushed EV1s are frustrating to watch, particularly as you contemplate the reasons why powerful, wealthy corporate and national interests in our world opposed the development of EV technologies like this.

Crushed GM EV1 cars

For more on that story specifically, in addition to this documentary, check out the article, “Why did GM crush the EV1??

In addition to EV Conversion kits, before watching this documentary I also didn’t know about plug-in hybrids. Hymotion is one type of commercially offered conversion kit for the Toyota Prius, which can offer the benefits of an all-electric driving experience for commutes close to home but the longer range of a gas-powered hybrid car for longer trips. The English WikiPedia article for “Plug-in hybrid” gives more background:

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), also known as a plug-in hybrid, is a hybrid vehicle with rechargeable batteries that can be restored to full charge by connecting a plug to an external electric power source. A PHEV shares the characteristics of both a conventional hybrid electric vehicle, having an electric motor and an internal combustion engine; and of an all-electric vehicle, also having a plug to connect to the electrical grid. Most PHEVs on the road today are passenger cars, but there are also PHEV versions of commercial vehicles and vans, utility trucks, buses, trains, motorcycles, scooters, and military vehicles.

The cost for electricity to power plug-in hybrids for all-electric operation has been estimated at less than one quarter of the cost of gasoline. Compared to conventional vehicles, PHEVs can reduce air pollution, dependence on petroleum and fossil fuels, and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming unless the PHEV is charged by plugging into an electric utility where coal is the predominant fuel used to generate electricity. PHEVs also eliminate the problem of “range anxiety” associated to all-electric vehicles, because the combustion engine works as a backup when the batteries are depleted. Plug-in hybrids use no fossil fuel during their all-electric range and produce lower greenhouse gas emissions if their batteries are charged from renewable electricity. Other benefits include improved national energy security, fewer fill-ups at the filling station, the convenience of home recharging, opportunities to provide emergency backup power in the home, and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) applications.

That sounds GREAT to me. You’re not going to see one of these in my driveway in the next few months, but maybe someday.

Before watching this documentary, I’d never heard of Stanford Ovshinsky. He is a brilliant inventor, and his battery technologies are in virtually all the hybrid electric vehicles on the road today. I was amazed as well as saddened to learn after General Motors purchased his battery technology to use (eventually) in the EV1, they sold a controlling interest in that technology to Texaco. Think Texaco raced to monetize the disruptive potential of Ovshinsky’s genius? Of course not.

I’m also VERY moved by the confluence of interests represented by groups like Plug In America, which is referenced towards the end of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Former US CIA director James Woolsey explains how our continued dependence on foreign oil in the United States presents a continuing national security threat which a shift to electric vehicles could constructively address – for the LONG term. Woolsey is a founder of the “Set America Free Coalition,” and wrote the April 15, 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal, “How To End America’s Addiction To Oil.” An archived PDF version of this article is also available from the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, in case this article is later taken offline or locked to non-subscribers of the WSJ. Consider a few of the alarming statements from his article:

  1. If it [oil] reaches $125 a barrel again, as it did in 2008, then approximately half the wealth in the world—above and below ground—will be controlled by OPEC nations.
  2. Oil profits enhance the ability of dictators and autocrats to dominate their people. This is one reason that eight of the top nine oil exporters (Norway is the exception) are dictatorships or autocratic kingdoms, as are virtually all of the 22 states that depend on oil and gas for at least two-thirds of their exports.
  3. Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth enables it to control around 90% of the world’s Islamic institutions even though it has less than 2% of the world’s Muslims. (For more on the impact of the Saudis on global Islam, see Yaroslav Trofimov’s 2005 book, “Faith At War: A Journey On The Frontlines Of Islam, From Baghdad To Timbuktu.” I reviewed this excellent book here on July 3rd this year.)

Bumper stickers like this are not uncommon where we live in central Oklahoma, in the heart of oil country.

Drill for American Oil Now

Woolsey explains in his article why this advocacy campaign is inherently limited in its potential impact:

Drill, baby, drill? Some suggest that if we replace foreign with domestic oil our problems will be solved. Domestic drilling does help reduce oil’s share—a billion dollars a day—of our huge balance of payments deficit, and it adds some domestic employment.

But that’s it. OPEC has very large reserves and cheap extraction costs, while domestic drilling costs for new oil will be many times that of the Saudis. We can’t drill our way out of the cartel’s control of the global oil market.

In his article, Woolsey makes the case for four different ways we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil in the United States in the short AND the long term. In addition to supporting “The Pickens Plan” (as I do) he advocates for new legislation which would force car manufacturers to produce flex-fuel vehicles. “Set America Free” views FFVs (flexible fuel vehicles) as well as plug-in hybrids as the SOLUTION to our current oil addiction.

The national security implications here should be glaringly obvious to every voting U.S. citizen, as well as those too young to vote yet.

visualize US dollars flowing out of our country for foreign oil

While the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” is depressing to watch at times, it’s also inspirational to see the advocacy work of so many groups who are taking ACTION to address many of the issues this film raises. Change is difficult for everyone, and certainly our wealthiest petroleum companies as well as oil-rich nations are not interested in a shift to a greener future. I am, however, and so are lots of other people around our country.

Bring on the EVs.

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