I must say that I was surprised when the movie started, and not only by the english speaking characters (entiendo todo!). Nope, I was transported straight into the early 1990’s via cheesy character dialogue, X-files references and the sounds of dial-up internet. Now, a quick plot summary to help me frame my story. Guy, an idiotic anti-do-gooder frat boy imbecile, somehow manages to make his rather sweet girlfriend leave him. In order to gain back her heart, he plans to fly half way across the US to take a picture with the first commercial electric vehicle. After a few, admittedly hilarious blunders, Guy decides to commandeer the car and drive it all the way back to California to give to his girlfriend as a gift. You see, the big corporate car company does not plan to make these cars available to the common people. Why you ask? The people don’t want them!
As ridiculous as the movie comes across, many elements accurately frame the decision of GM to pull their first electric car from the market in the 90’s. GM, potentially influenced by the oil industry, decided that the American people did not want an electric car – it was just too radical, too quiet, too sleek, too different. This seems preposterous, but is it true? A recent example of frustrating consumer behavior from my native Canada; SUV and pickup truck sales saw huge increases late last year when the price of oil plummeted. Consumers, weary of the high oil prices, had been buying smaller, more environmentally friendly cars to commute, take the kids to the park, etc. The first sign of cheaper fuel and people are back with pickups and other less efficient vehicles. What does it take to educate consumers on the dangers and environmental damage that their activities contribute to?
While watching the film, another question came to mind. Why have electric vehicles taken so long to become established? If the technology existed over 20 years ago, surely we could have done better and made more progress in this area? Couldn’t we have established charging stations along interstate highways, issued tax incentive programs for electric car users (as in Norway), and challenged other manufacturers to innovate faster. Is it only now, after a decade of increased global awareness of global warming that consumers will make a conscious decision and demand ‘less’ power, less noise, less pollution? Food for thought.