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This assignment requires that you apply the SCOT approach to analyze the social construction and demise of the Electric Vehicle 1 (EV1) as depicted in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, https://documentaryheaven.com/who-killed-the-electric-car/. Please watch the, and answer the following four questions:

  1. What is a relevant social group? What are the RSGs involved in the story told by the documentary?
  1. What is interpretive flexibility? How did each RSG interpret the EV1?
  1. What is a technological frame? Identify the main (identifiable) elements of each RSG’s TF.
  1. What is the documentaryreminding us about the concept of closure?
  1. Bonus ! How many technological determinists does it take to change a light bulb? (1 point)

Relevant groups in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car

A group of people who have the same level of understanding and they are connected to a particular entity is called a relevant group. As per the documentary, the relevant group is a collection of people who have the same views for electric cars. Following eight relevant groups have been discussed in the documentary (DocumentaryHeaven, n.d.).

  1. Car companies: the car companies that produced the electrical vehicles particularly General Motors (GM), constitute this category. Apart from General Motors there were other companies as well such as Toyota, Nissan and Ford (Crothers, 2017).

  2. Electric car drivers: these were the people who drove electric cars, particularly EV1. They admired the ideas and concepts behind EV1. But, when EV1 was taken back they were very hurt as well as furious about the decision and wanted it to run on the roads again (History, 2018).

  3. People who did not selected electric cars: there were many people who did not appreciated electric cars because they had a lot of questions regarding the performance and reliability on electric cars. Such as many thought that there is a driving limitation presented by the electric cars which is not the case with the gasoline cars. Some did not like the design and felt that the traditional gasoline cards should be continued. While many of the people were not familiar with the concepts of electric cars. They lacked in awareness. Hence, they did not approve it.

  4. Oil companies: the oil companies did not like electric cars because electric cars would bring their market down. They knew that electric cars were built on the clean and pollution free technology which would be appreciated by the people because nobody wanted to harm the environment intentionally. Moreover, electric cars ran on a never-ending source of energy unlike oil which is limited.

  5. Battery companies: these companies did the power source for the electric cars that is the batteries. They wanted to build better batteries that would last longer and weigh less. Ovonics, a battery company, built a much better battery compared to the one used in EV1, whose shares were later purchased by GM in order to prevent him from advertising.

  6. California Air Resources Board (CARB): this organisation wanted to improve the environment by reducing the carbon dioxide emission. They saw electric cars as a great alternative to the gasoline ones in order to decrease the air pollution and thus improving the quality of air. For this they proposed Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate (ZEVM) which stated that all the car companies had to build some of their cars which would emit zero exhaust gases. However, it was not supported by Alan Lloyd, the chairman of carb, when he became the chairman of Fuel Cell Partnership (Leon, 2015).

  7. US government: it was in a partnership with the oil companies and therefore wanted the Californian government to take back the ZEVM. It also proposed hydrogen fuel cells and believe that it would be a better alternative.

  8. Hydrogen Fuel Cells Supporters: there were people who believe that hydrogen fuses would be a better option as compared to the gasoline and electric cars and therefore wanted to invest in the projects containing hydrogen fuel cells.

It is not necessary that all the relevant groups of the same understanding of a particular technology, it may differ. This is termed as interpretive flexibility. A shocking claim was made by GM that EV1 was useless because they were unable to generate profit out of it. The dealerships started losing their profit from servicing which they used to get from gasoline vehicles. GM started highlighting the flaws of electric cars by pointing out its limitations so that people start losing interest in them. This step was a major setback for electric cars in the future (Staley, 2017).

The people who appreciated electric cars were very disappointed by the decision of GM because they loved driving it because they believed that this technology could bring an end to the pollution. However there were people disapproved electric cars and believed in the traditional gasoline technology.

CARB wanted that the electric cars take over the gasoline ones because they contributed in the improvement of air quality. However, as soon as Alan Lloyd became the chairman of fuel cells, he started to disagree from the ZEVM because he along with the oil companies were unable to generate profits (Clarke, n.d.).

US government also did not wanted to promote electric cars because if EV1 had replaced the fuel running because, it would shut down the oil companies and thereby effecting the profit of the government too. Hence, the US government took every step and measure to stop the purchase of electric vehicles such as by imposing high taxes.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology was introduced among the people in order to distract them from electric vehicles and prevent them from buying it. The new technology enables a cars to run both on hydrogen is electricity, it was hypothetical technology.

Ovonics developed batteries that would have made EV1 succeed because the new batteries were far better than the previous ones. Moreover, they sold the limitations of long distance driving. However, as mentioned above GM did not wanted to continue EV1 so it took every possible step in order to stop Ovonics advertising because that would have developed the interest back among the people.

When the understanding of any entity is negotiated among the people belonging to any relevant social group, it is called as a technological frame. It constitutes targets, issues, issue solving methods, etc. It also defines the communication among a relevant group’s members. It is not necessary that it applies only to the technical groups. GM did not wanted to promote their new technology because they had started to lose their profits on maintenance. So, they began to show the limitations of the EV1 in order to loosen the interest among the masses. They also wanted to bring down the ZEVM and switch to the production of gasoline cars only (Mallick, 2014).

Interpretive flexibility and GM's decision to kill EV1

The oil companies disapproved the electric cars because it was a direct threat to their existence in the market. The more the people will demand electric cars, the lesser will be the sales of gasoline cars. This would decrease their profits. Therefore, the prime step for them was to stop EV1 from succeeding and bring back the gasoline cars in the race. They funded many organisations such as ‘Californian Against Utility Company Abuse’ to suppress EV1 and promoted that the electric stations should not be installed. They did all possible attempt to bring down ZEVM and were successful in doing so (Joseph, 2013).

The people who loved EV1 wanted to keep it but some people felt that the re-charging of the batteries every 30 miles was a headache. Although new batteries that would run longer than the previous ones were designed, yet due to lack of promotions, including less number of power stations and on top of that GM’s ignorance towards EV1 led to decrease the interest among the lovers as well.

CARB was very interested in promoting EV1 in the beginning but as soon as Alan Lloyd became the chairman of Fuel Cells, it also started to take its eyes from EV1 because EV1 was the main reason of preventing him from making profits at the cost of pollution (Woudhuysen, 2008).

Government: Same as CARB, the US government also viewed EV1 as a main hurdle between them and profit. If the oil companies shut, their business would be greatly affected resulting in the decrease of their profit. In order to bring EV1 down, they invested around 1.2 Dollars on the research for Hydrogen Fuel cells that would power cars instead of electric. It was a trap. Moreover, tax relaxation was granted on the purchase of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) (Cuesta, 2017).

Battery companies: A Battery company Ovonics wanted to remove the limitations of the earlier batteries that an electric car could not go far and needed repeated recharges. Its main target was to provide a better solution to GM and hence increase their sales.

Hydrogen cells supporters: The people who liked the concept of hydrogen cells wanted it to replace electric cars because they were not satisfied by EVs. They wanted to bring fuel consumption back to the cars but knew that it could not happen instantaneously and therefore brought a combined technology of fuel and electricity as ‘Fuel Cells’. Hydrogen cars were not better than electric cars but in order to distract the peoples any other technology had to be brought.

Car companies: GM was trying its best to drop off the idea of electric vehicles because it posed a serious threat to its profit as the electric cars did not required maintainence and servicing as regularly as the gasoline ones. For this they stopped using the improved batteries and promoted EV1 as a limited entity with many flaws (Kim, 2018). The number of buyers reduced significantly from 4000 to just 50 people. When GM was successful in doing it started to say that EV1 has lost its market and it should be better to stop producing and investing on it. After doing this too, GM filed a case against CARB so that it drops ZEVM and promote gasoline cars to run on the roads again giving profit to GM again (Brown, 2016).

Technological frame negotiation among social groups

Consumers: They include the people who loved EV1 as well as who disliked it. One of the major flaw with EV1 was that it did not provided a long drive experience because it had to recharge power again and again. They had to go to their offices and thus desired an experience in which a car runs continuously with very less stoppage at power stations.

The stabilization of the entity is termed as the closure. When the interpretative flexibility of an entity is reducing, its closure is increasing. Closure can be categorized into two forms, Rhetorical closure and Redefinition of the problem closure. The stabilization of the entity along with the invisiblity of issues related to it is termed as Rhetorical closure. It does not include the sorting out of the issue. Instead it includes making it disappear. Whereas redefinition of the problem means framing of a problem to which the entity will act as a solution. The documentary showed that some of the social relevant groups disliked EV1 and wanted to remove them. They saw EV1 as a problem for themselves while many relevant social groups liked the idea behind EV1 and wanted them to stay. Those who saw them as an issue wanted to bring another technology of hydrogen fuel cells. Some of the relevant groups saw it as a great alternative to electric cars, others did not. For some of the social groups it was viewed as a solution. Many social relevant groups made involvement in the removal of the EV1. This signifies that closure is temporary.

Just a single technological determinist is required for changing a light bulb. However, all the people would encircle the determinist and talk about the reasons that drove the determinist and the relation between the choice of changing the light bulb and the technological entity.

References

Brown, A. (2016, March 17). Here's the story behind GM's revolutionary electric car from the 90s that disappeared. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.in: https://www.businessinsider.in/Heres-the-story-behind-GMs-revolutionary-electric-car-from-the-90s-that-disappeared/articleshow/51434620.cms

Clarke, C. (n.d.). An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? Retrieved from https://www.earthisland.org: https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/magazine/entry/an_inconvenient_truth_and_who_killed_the_electric_car/

Crothers, B. (2017, June 11). How To Kill The Electric Car: Report. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brookecrothers/2017/06/11/how-to-kill-the-electric-car-report/#71d0ebd4274e

Cuesta, S. D. (2017, December 30). The GM EV1: The Electric Vehicle Godfather. Retrieved from https://www.endurancewarranty.com: https://www.endurancewarranty.com/learning-center/shoptalk/rewind/gm-ev1-electric-vehicle-godfather/

DocumentaryHeaven. (n.d.). Who Killed the Electric Car? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://documentaryheaven.com: https://documentaryheaven.com/who-killed-the-electric-car/

History. (2018, August 21). “Who Killed the Electric Car?” debuts. Retrieved from https://www.history.com: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/who-killed-the-electric-car-debuts

Joseph, J. (2013, May 9). Dead-End Technologies: GM EV1. Retrieved from https://carbuzz.com: https://carbuzz.com/news/dead-end-technologies-gm-ev1

Kim, J. (2018, October 3). The EV1 and the MOOC. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/technology-and-learning/ev1-electric-car-and-mooc

Leon, B. (2015, October 2). Bizarre Car of the Week: 1996 GM EV1. Retrieved from https://www.nydailynews.com: https://www.nydailynews.com/amp/autos/street-smarts/bizarre-car-week-1996-gm-ev1-article-1.2383330

Mallick, K. (2014, January 5). The Legend of the GM EV1. Retrieved from https://www.pluginindia.com: https://www.pluginindia.com/blogs/the-legend-of-the-ev1

Staley, O. (2017, April 7). The General Motors CEO who killed the original electric car is now in the electric car business. Retrieved from https://qz.com: https://qz.com/952951/the-general-motors-gm-ceo-who-killed-the-ev1-electric-car-rick-wagoner-is-now-in-the-electric-car-business/

Woudhuysen, J. (2008, January 1). The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was. Retrieved from https://www.theregister.co.uk: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/01/woudhuysen_electric_car/

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