PBS's 'Now' Charged Up About 'Foul Play' Killing Electric Car

     The June 9 “Now with David Brancaccio” could well have been titled PBS’s “Tin-Foil Conspiracy Theatre” as the newsmagazine looked at death of the electric car from the Michael Moore-like lens of a left-wing filmmaker.

     Rather than entertaining the notion that a lack of market demand doomed the vehicles, “Now” instead pushed filmmaker Chris Paine’s arguments that the “clean” car’s demise was the result of a sinister plot by GM and Big Oil. That film, “Who Killed the Electric Car,” is scheduled for a June 28 release in New York and Los Angeles.

     Looking into the demise of the electric car, Paine said, he began “to realize that something really had happened. That it was foul play.”

     “Foul play implicated in the death of these cars,” Brancaccio asked. But the real “foul play” here, or what Paine called “spin,” was what amounted to a 30-minute PBS promo for the latest left-wing film coming out of Hollywood.

     Paine explained, “The idea of the film is why is it so hard for us to get off of oil,” adding, “whenever you have big change, there's big forces that say, ‘No, no, no, we don't want the change.’

     But those big forces aren’t shady executives in a back room. They’re consumers who never warmed to a vehicle that was inconvenient to recharge, despite tax credits offered for electric vehicles.

     According to the General Motors (NYSE: GM) Web site, the GM-produced EV1 ran on a lead acid battery requiring a “5 to 6 hour charge” on which the driver could expect a “driving range of “55 to 95 miles.” Or a nickel-metal hydride battery which gave a 75-130 mile range with a 6-8 hour charge. The Toyota Rav4EV, an electric version of its gasoline-powered SUV, achieved only 100-125 miles per charging, according to a Toyota press release.

     Either way, the mileage and refueling limitations were hardly a selling-point for busy Americans. Long road trips or weekends running numerous errands would be next to impossible to accomplish. As GM stated on its Web site, it “learned that new technologies need a supporting infrastructure – an issue that must be addressed before fuel cells” like those running on hydrogen, “can hit the streets.”

     And while Paine complained to Brancaccio about tax credits for SUVs for small business owners, the government did actively encourage electric vehicles with tax incentives. According to the federal government Web site fueleconomy.gov, electric vehicles used to qualify their owners for a one-time $4,000 tax credit before being phased down to $1,000 in 2006. By contrast, hybrids in service prior to 2006 are worth only a $2,000 tax deduction, while newer hybrids account for at most a $3,400 tax credit.