That's the year General Motors rolled out the EV1, an all-battery-powered, zero-emissions vehicle. In the ensuing four years, about 800 EV1s were leased in the state of California, which, at the time, had not only passed a zero-emissions plan but had erected infrastructure, like battery-charging stations, to support the use of electric cars on its roads. The car's lessees (the EV1 was never sold, it was only leased with a no-purchase clause) gave it rave reviews and at least according to Chris Paine's documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? about the rise the controversial fall EV1, many of its drivers hoped to renew their lease agreements.
But in 1999, the possibility of zero-emission personal transportation wasn't looking good. GM had decided the EV1 would never be profitable, discontinued the line and by 2003, had removed every last EV1 from the roads and shredded them to scrap.
That was in 2003, when the price of gas in Idaho that year reached a record high of $1.84 per gallon. Gas was still relatively cheap, hybrid technology had yet to really take off in the marketplace, and electric transportation seemed like the next logical step in weaning ourselves from fossil fuels.
Fast forward five years. Rather than revisit the electric car's shortcomings and develop a viable and profitable new generation, we've stuck it out with big oil, paying more than $4 a gallon for gas and turning to ethanol, which has only resulted in throwing the world's food economy completely out of whack. Now we're paying more for gas and food, while gas companies reap in record profits, and consumers just continue to whine about being sucker punched without doing much about it.
If all that frustrates you, check out Who Killed the Electric Car? to really increase your stress levels.
I first watched Who Killed the Electric Car? in 2006 and I've recommended it to dozens of people since. Every time I hear someone ask the question, "Why don't we develop electric auto technology," I tell them to find Paine's film. In retrospect, the film seems eerily prescient about the conclusions it draws following the demise of the EV1. After reviewing the film for this newspaper in 2006, a reader posted the following comment online: "The car was an idiotic answer to problems that by the mid-90s no longer existed: gas shortages and excessive auto emissions." I can't help but wonder if that reader has since changed his or her tune.
This weekend, as part of its Energy Festival, the Discovery Center of Idaho hosts a screening of Who Killed the Electric Car? at the Egyptian Theatre. Paine will also be in Boise for the screening and will be available for questions at a pre-film screening.
Friday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m., $8, Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St. Reception is 5:30-7 p.m., $25, Discovery Center of Idaho, 131 Myrtle St., 208-343-9895. More information at scidaho.org.