EV1 in Museums
There have been many rumors and accusations about GM's placement of several EV1s in various museums (The Smithsonian display being the most controversial). Presented here are some images, first-hand accounts, and several pieces of information from folks who are close to the issue.
The EV1 is now listed on the Smithsonian web site under: Making sense of Failed Car Technology - which appears to be a less-than-balanced way to present the vehicle to the masses who can no longer see the vehicle on display.
Written to Chris Pain,
director of Who Killed the Electric Car? after posting the link to
the "Failed Car Technology" and mentioning that the Smithsonian
claims they did not know about the movie but they turned Chris down in his
initial request to film there.
I think it is important to keep in mind that no large organization, whether it is the Smithsonian, General Motors or even Sony Pictures, is entirely of a single mind, and that parts of any organization tend to operate at cross purposes with one another. That said, there is no excuse for the way you were treated by the Smithsonian Press Office in denying you the right to film. I was there in Washington and tried to help. Remember? And I was just as outraged.
But please keep in mind that the curators -- the ones who make the decisions about the care and rotation of exhibits -- have no direct connection to the Press Office and therefore also had no knowledge of your film until we told them about it.
More troubling, however, is the issue that you raised in your blog, also mentioned by Jeff Chan today, and the reason that EVA/DC's Jerry Asher and I were there in the first place -- the presentation of the EV1 as "a failed experiment." We have learned that a former curator named Janet Davidson, who has since moved on, was responsible for that miscarriage, having accepted the GM hook, line and [oil] barrel. Whether or not she had any connection to GM, we could not determine, but, to their credit, senior curators Liebhold and White offered us an opportunity to help correct the record and to share our point of view on the Smithsonian Web site. We are still working with them on this -- and on efforts to have the EV1 displayed elsewhere, now that the museum is closing for renovations.
If we fail in either of these efforts, then you will have the opportunity to say, "I told you so!" and to characterize us as fools, or worse. We are not, however, naive enough to believe that GM's $10 million corporate sponsorship was not somehow felt at some level of the Smithsonian organization. They certainly seem to have gotten to Janet Davidson!
But Liebhold, White and perhaps others in the organization, appear to be more balanced in their perspective and therefore deserve a forum to express their point of view with the same degree of fairness that "all of the likely suspects" were treated in the whodunnit film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" -- don't you agree?
Incidentally, it is extremely unfortunate that the Nation's premier museum, the Smithsonian, is not funded entirely by taxpayer contributions -- a decision that was made years ago, during the Reagan Administration, I believe, when their funding was severely cut. They have no choice, if they wish to continue operating, but to accept corporate contributions, in the same way that the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio accept corporate contributions. Does this have a subtle --and sometimes not so subtle -- effect upon program quality and content? Arguably it does. But that does not mean that every decision maker in the organization must necessarily be part of a vast conspiracy to sacrifice Truth for the Almighty Dollar. It just seems that way to many of us, regardless of whether you live inside or outside the Beltway.
The way the Smithsonian presented the EV1's "failure" is inaccurate. Have you seen the EV1 exhibit at the Smithsonian and how the display was written? It's quite obvious it was completely from GMs point of view. So a corporate sponsor can now "buy" history? Even if there are no improprieties on GM or the Smithsonian's part, displaying a product that was destroyed by the exhibit's corporate sponsor is going to raise eyebrows.
The reason EVA/DC became involved in the first place was our concern that
the "public" was not getting the "full story" about the
EV1. As soon as we saw the exhibit we personally met with the curators to
voice our concerns. As a matter of fact we have met with them several times.
Most recently a week before the the EV1 was sent to storage. And I have met
with another museum that has expressed interest in exhibiting the car. However,
artifacts are now under a 3-month moratorium which means the Smithsonian will
not loan out the car during the moratorium.
Now, isn't that convenient for GM and the Smithsonian? The moratorium just happens to be the same time span as the movie plays in theaters.
The museum I spoke with said that they did not believe the moratorium should necessarily apply to the EV1. And this museum already has a Smithsonian artifact in their collection and has worked with the Smithsonian on other collections. Moratoriums are just another institutional policy and can be changed. Even with the controversy and the fact the EV1 is getting more press and public interest, the Smithsonian appears to have no intention of lifting the moratorium.
Although they have been open in discussions with us they have remained unbending. Nothing was ever done with our concern about the information on the display and we don't expect them to lift the moratorium. But hey, they could surprise us.
And there are too many parallels between the timing of the movie and the timing of the closure of the exhibit. First of course, Chris is denied access to the car to film the movie. The opening of the movie which is June 28 is the same day as the opening for the robotic SUV that replaces the EV1. The moratorium on loaning the vehicle is lasting the duration of the movie's showing in theaters. The Smithsonian remains completely inflexible in lifting the moratorium. The EV1 is removed within 2 weeks of the movie premier. The Washington Post writes a story at the exact same time we are in discussions with the Smithsonian to save the car. The Smithsonian hides the vehicle with partitions at the same day we are in discussions with another museum to relocate the car.
If this isn't a conspiracy then it's "A Convenient Truth" for both GM and the Smithsonian.
So it looks like GM wins yet again and the Smithsonian doesn't have to worry about losing any future donations from corporate contributors. The losers are the public who won't see the truth or the car. As Chris Paine mentioned in an email last week, "For shame. No wonder we are in such trouble as a nation."
From the Smithsonian:
More than 4 million visitors saw the EV1 displayed in a prominent location
during the 15 months it was on view in the museum -- much longer that
originally planned when it was donated to the National Museum of American History in March 2005.
A recent article in the Washington Post and subsequently picked up by the
Associated Press, incorrectly implied that the museum removed the EV1 from
display upon request by General Motors and in advance of the release of a new documentary.
This is incorrect and there is no relation between the EV1's removal and
the release of the film. It is standard museum procedure to rotate objects
on and off display with many objects staying on view for only 6 months to 1 year. The decision to rotate out the EV1 this summer was made in January 2006, long before any release dates for the film were known.
While the EV1 is no longer on display, the car is featured on museum's Web site: link as are other alternative and electric cars in our collections.
The museum will be closing to the public as of Sept. 5, 2006 for major renovations.
Until then, we are working to showcase as many collections as
we can until we reopen in the summer of 2008.
Once again, thank you for contacting the museum.
LA Times, 10.July.2006
One of the problems with corporate involvement is the appearance of influence in exhibition programming. Recently the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History removed the pioneering EV1 electric car from an exhibit. Perhaps not surprisingly, the museum's new transportation wing is being sponsored by General Motors, the same GM that has been excoriated for discontinuing the EV1 despite consumer demand for the car.
You might think that corporate sponsorship is no different from private philanthropy. The Smithsonian was built, in part, with gifts from wealthy industrialists. Yet once someone has donated a collection, his or her influence on the programming is effectively complete; the influence is reflected in what they donated. But with corporate funding — and the possibility of more — independence comes into question. Do we know for a fact that GM's involvement with the Museum of American History caused the EV1 to disappear from the exhibit? No, but it's the kind of question that shouldn't even come into play.
Kris Trexler's EV1 is at the Peterson Museum:
First of all, congratulations Chris Paine. Your film is incredible. I'm happy to see you not only thoughtfully explained the history of the EV1, you spread the blame for it's demise fairly and equitably. No single villain is to blame, your film clarifies that. Kudos!
For those of you who are longtime EV1 fans, you know who I am. One of the first people to lease an EV1 on December 5, 1996. I was very active in the EV1 Club in the early days when the car seemed to be on the cusp of igniting a automotive revolution, but I went dark in later days for reasons I'd like to explain. After seeing Chris Paine's INCREDIBLE film "Who Killed the Electric Car," I feel compelled to resurface, at least temporarily. I wasn't able to see the film until today, July 20, because I've been out of the country for a few weeks.
As many of you old timers know, in 1998 I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I drove my 1st generation EV1 from Los Angeles to Detroit in an effort to get the word out about the miracle of electric cars, and to disprove the naysayers who said it couldn't be done. Well I did do it, and much to the surprise of General Motors and others, I had nary a glitch with my EV1 and the trip was totally successful. I called my journey "Charge Across America." During my ultimate EV1 road trip I was interviewed by newspapers and other media along the way, showed off the car to busloads of school children who flocked to see it while I was charging up, and enjoyed meeting some of the folks at GM factories in the midwest where components of the car were designed and manufactured. I doubt I'll have an adventure as exciting as that again. To read my diary and see photos, visit http:// www.kingoftheroad.net/chargeacrossamerica
The trip was taken on my own initiative with little initial enthusiasm from GM. However, some inside GM wanted to stay in touch with me as I traveled in case there were problems, and I was furnished a company cell phone with numbers to call in case of trouble. There wasn't any trouble during my 3,275 mile trip, so my phone calls were invariably exited accounts about how well things were going. GM took notice of the great publicity the company and the car was getting during my cross-country trip, and even arranged a finish line party at GMATV headquarters in Troy, Michigan. It was an uplifting ceremony as I drove my EV1 through a huge paper banner welcoming me to Michigan.
Shortly after the successful conclusion of my trip, a prominent GM executive involved with the EV1 (all names withheld) thanked me for my efforts. Whether or not the top brass at GM approved, execs and staffers at lower echelons within the company were obviously elated that their little gem had received so much national publicity. As the GM exec told me, "no amount of advertising dollars can buy this kind of goodwill for a company." Further, he said "you have done so much for us. What can we do for you?" With absolutely no hesitation, I said "sell me that EV1 at the end of my lease." After a few seconds of silence, the GM exec replied "I can't sell you the car. But we WILL GIVE YOU THAT EV1." Imagine my astonishment! A top GM exec PROMISED to give me an EV1 as a gift! From day 1, the company had stated that the cars would never fall into the hands of individuals, they would always be company owned. And now I was being GIVEN one of these precious vehicles! The exec told me to call other GM staffers on the West Coast to let them know this would be happening. I vividly recall the astonishment I heard on the phone from those GM employees, but it was soon widely known within GM that I had been promised the car. I was sworn to secrecy not to discuss GM's promise to give me the car. This could obviously open a flood gate of demands and requests from other EV1 "owners" (as we were called, even though we only leased the cars).
A few months later, the GM exec called me again. This time to
tell me that he was resigning to pursue other interests. But he promised to
make sure his replacement was well aware of the company's legal obligation
to follow through on their verbal promise (verbal
contract?) to give me the car. Further, he told me it was OK to post news about his resignation on this very same EV1 Club discussion list. Guess what? My posting of that news was the first word ANYONE at GM heard about his resignation! He had enlisted me to get the word out, knowing well that GM closely monitored this discussion list. It wasn't long before my phone started ringing with inquires from GM execs and staffers wanting to know why I was the first to know about the resignation. To this day, I have no idea why the exec asked me to publish his recognition on the internet before formally submitting his resignation to the GM board.
Within a few weeks, the predecessor in that job called me to
confirm and reassure me that he and the company were on track to give me my
EV1 #99 at the end of my lease period. Months passed, 2nd generation EV1s were finally introduced, and lots of other good and bad news about the project came and went. Then one day I got another call from GM. This was a "good news, bad news" call. I was told the bad news was that GM would not be giving me the car as promised. Although I could have challenged GM's verbal contract with me in court, I was advised that GM's legal department would likely prevail. The good news was that rather than be mothballed or crushed as was intended for the vast majority of EV1's, GM would donate my EV1 #99 to the museum of my choice, in my name. After careful consideration, I unhappily decided to accept the "good news" offer. Of course I was DEVASTATED beyond belief that I would not get to keep #99.
Those of us that had the privilege of leasing and driving EV1's invariably became attached to our little gems, and due to my cross country "Charge Across America" in 1998, I was relieved that my special car would be saved and appreciated in a museum. GM allowed me to choose the museum for the donation, and I selected the prestigious Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. I worked with GM and the museum over a period of months to get the donation on track after the lease ended. GM took the car back for a few weeks, permanently disabled it, and a donation ceremony at The Petersen was arranged with press invited. By the strangest of coincidences, Michael Jackson's misfortunes came to a head the previous day, and virtually the entire Los Angeles press corp headed off to Neverland Ranch on the same morning as the donation ceremony at the Petersen Museum. So the ceremony was an odd one, with lots of catered food and a splashy presentation, but no press at all. That twist of fate had nothing at all to do with GM - I think the company really wanted to get some goodwill press out of the donation, especially considering the EV1 funeral and other negative news about the EV1 that was less than helpful to the company's image. GM's ever-present Dave Barthmuss was on hand at The Petersen that day, and he must have been relieved that he didn't have to deal with the press to defend GM's decision to dump the EV1. My car is occasionally on display at the Petersen Museum, and will remain on loan from GM to the Petersen collection permanently - supposedly. It's too bad that GM reneged on their verbal promise to give me EV1 #99, but at least my car was not crushed and shredded as most were.
I hope this explanation satisfactorily explains my long silence. I have been as frustrated as everyone else who is and was passionate about the EV1. But my promise to remain quiet when GM promised me the car, as well as my desire that the Petersen donation not be botched kept me off the radar. I didn't want to do anything to screw up the donation until it was already done. Chris was in the process of shooting his film at the time, and I desperately want to be part of the saga. But after seeing the film today I realized it's finally time to speak up.
Chris, thanks for preserving the EV1's legacy. Thanks for showing Chelsea with my #99 at the Petersen, and thanks for the nice credit at the end of the film. I can't wait to buy a copy when the DVD is released.