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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

EV Obit

Air Date: Week of

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Car companies are looking past battery electric vehicles to the next generation of hybrids and fuel cells. Reporter Alex Cohen spent time with a group of electric car mourners in Los Angeles.


CURWOOD: As one alternative trend begins, another seems to be nearing its end. In the 1990s, several automakers including Ford, Toyota and GM started making battery electric vehicles, partly to respond to tough emissions laws in California. Plug-in cars were hailed as the wave of the future. But now, carmakers are pushing hybrids, fuel cells and new gas engines and they're looking past battery electric. As drivers watch the leases on their EV1s expire, GM, maker of this electric car, says they have to turn their vehicles in. Alex Cohen reports they’re mourning the loss of their clean, quiet automobiles.


COHEN: It was another hazy summer day in Los Angeles as a bagpipe player and a man riding a Segway scooter led a quiet procession of twenty-four electric vehicles through the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. As the cars came to a near silent stop, a black shroud and a bouquet of flowers were gently placed on top of a silver EV1.

This being Hollywood, the mock funeral included a real rabbi to help mourners deal with their grief. Rabbi Brian Mayer said EV1 drivers aren't just bidding farewell to a machine, but to a way of life.

MAYER: We are all here today because something has been taken from us. In our hearts we feel some pain. What we knew, what we loved, we know will be no more. It is a human thing.

COHEN: Filmmaker Chris Paine organized this funeral to protest GM's decision to pull the plug on the EV1. For five years, Paine has loved driving his cute little car safely and swiftly all over Los Angeles. But in just two weeks when his lease ends, Paine will have to turn in his beloved automobile.

PAINE: It's really sad because we have the technology and we have the inventors and the vision not to have this situation and, unfortunately, we're not putting those to work.

BARTHMUSS: The EV1 was a great vehicle for its time.

COHEN: Dave Barthmuss manages energy and environmental issues for General Motors. He says GM spent more than a billion dollars on the EV1. But even so, there wasn't enough interest in a car that seldom drove more than 100 miles per charge. Barthmuss says of the 1000 EV1s made available to drivers in California and Arizona, only 800 were leased.

BARTHMAUSS: General Motors and, frankly, the rest of the automotive industry feels a better way to address environmental and energy concerns is to offer vehicles that consumers will want to buy or lease in extremely large numbers.

COHEN: And those vehicles, Barthmuss says, are hybrids and fuel cell cars.

The economic future may well not lie in electric cars, but losing such a clean method of transportation is still a setback for the environment says Todd Campbell, policy director at the Coalition for Clean Air. That’s especially true in California, where air quality has recently been on the decline again.

CAMPBELL: It's basically shutting the door on an option that could get us to reduce those harmful particulates and smog forming chemicals that are invisible to the human eye, but are very present in our air and creating very unhealthy conditions for all of us in California. That's really sad.

COHEN: Some of the returned EV1s will be dismantled, others donated to museums and schools across the country. f

For Living on Earth, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: the ethics of using humans as subjects in scientific research. You're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Jason Falkner “I’m Only Sleeping” Bedtime with the Beatles Sony Wonder 2001]



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