“Who Killed the Electric Car?” – A Policy Process Analysis of the Ceasing of Production of EV1s

Almost two decades ago, in 1996, electric cars called EV1s were being driven in the streets of California that produced “no exhaust and ran without gasoline” (Paine 2006). Within ten years, these cars stopped being manufactured by GM and were even forced out of the hands of its owners. Through a policy process analysis of the killing of the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate elaborated on in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” directed by Chris Paine, a movie about the cease in production of EV1s (electric vehicles) by General Motors, it is clear to see that automaker and federal government needs and opportunity were prioritized above customer demand and air pollution. This was done through lack of advertising and incorrect framing of the vehicles as “unpopular” and “inefficient” for automaker companies. The case to cease production of such cars as initially set after the EV1 was developed, being a “cool, fast, and sexy” (Paine) car, reasonably priced at “$250-$500 a month” (Paine), with “70-100 miles per charge,” and practical production costs. This innovative design caught the attention of the California Air Resources Board who created the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate. This asked for “2% production of EV1s in 1998, 5% in 2001, 10% in 2005, etc.” (Paine). It was accepted but also fought against by automakers such as GM, who was most capable and liable to create demand for these EV1 vehicles. The campaign against the mandate was formed and legitimized by U.S. automakers and opponents of the mandate with arguments that “they were expensive… that environmental benefits of EVs were dubious… [and] that GM tried hard to develop and advertise the vehicle, but were unsuccessful” (Paine), because they “could not dictate what people buy” (Paine). In the end, CARB and GM compromised that they would “make electric cars according to demand” (Paine). The policy to kill the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate was finally implemented by the California Air Resources Board in 2003 after being sued by both automakers and the federal government who argued that such a mandate impeded on manufacturer’s rights to sell what they wanted. In the end the cars that were leased had to be given back, without the option of buying them. Paine evaluated the policy as having been unfairly pushed by auto manufacturers with government backing, who incorrectly framed EV1s as being both environmentally and economically inefficient with little demand from the public. He argues such claims were invalid as GM’s advertising campaign was extremely limited, excessively emphasizing the limitations of the product. The environmental benefits that oil companies and GM negate are also proven false by scientists that Paine interviews. Even though it makes sense that GM would not pursue creating EV1s as they don’t have an internal combustion engine, meaning a loss of parts that impact GMs profit, Paine argues that with the EV1s production cost, and with mass production, this loss in income would not be substantial. Almost everyone interviews on the streets of California argued that they never knew EV1s ever existed , and that they “need” and “want” the product badly. Paine argues that what killed the electric car were “oil companies, car companies, the California Air Resources Board, consumers, and the government” (Paine). Such a policy demonstrates how automaker and federal government needs and opportunities were prioritized above customer demand and air pollution, even when the majority of the public was not given proper information or a voice on the issue. In the end, maybe clean cars are just too important to be left with such sway from the automaker industry.


Who Killed the Electric Car? Dir. Chris Paine. By Chris Paine and Martin Sheen. Prod. Jessie Deeter. Sony Pictures Classics. 2006. DVD. Kraft, Michael E., and Scott R. Furlong. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2004, Print.  

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