Reporter's Notebook: Revenge of the Electric Car


Paine seems content simply knowing that so many multi-national corporations have done an about face. They get it. He's not about to rub anyone's face in it. Asked if his film is truly revenge, he quickly responded, "Nobody wants to hear people say I told you so, and the movie doesn't do it." About the same time that GM killed the EV1, they ironically purchased the Hummer brand. They were also going bankrupt. Since that time, a government rescue has helped return the company to profitability. As Paine puts it, "they made a lot of bad decisions" but he doesn't want to stick it to them. "The car companies kind of did an about face on the electric car, from it'll never work, nobody will ever buy one, to hmmmm, maybe this IS a good idea."

The EV doubters still exist. Commentators such as George Will question the fiscal prudence of spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money on federal subsidies that lower the end cost of EVs and plug-in hybrids by up to $7,500 per car. Will opines, "The Volt was conceived to appease the automotive engineers in Congress, which knows that people will have to be bribed, with other people's money, to buy this $41,000 car." He questions the efficacy of subsidizing EV chargers. "The federal government, although waist-deep in red ink, offers another bribe: Any purchaser can get a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the cost (up to $2,000) of an extra-powerful charger."

Always looking to recover some of my tax money, I happily applied for and received $12,500 in federal and state rebates, and a free charger. As an early purchaser of an electric car, I was recently invited to a preview of the film. Arriving at the screening, it was immediately apparent that the audience would be an informed crowd. Over 40 Nissan LEAF EV's filled the parking lot. Owners wandered the lot admiring the funky little cars that, amazingly, all looked alike. It was one giant happy family.

Kaherine Zachary is Senior Manager of Communications for Nissan of North America. She has a theory as to why electric cars have made a comeback. "Plugging something in has become second nature. You go home, you plug in your phone. Going home and plugging in you car is not a crazy thing to do, and one that people are finding more convenient than going to the gas station." Zachary believes that EV's are finding greater acceptance because, "70% of people drive less than 40 miles a day. This car works for a lot of people's lifestyles."

Paul Scott has been an EV driver for more than 20 years. He is a board member of Plug-in America, an activist organization that promotes electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. He believes that Paine's original documentary educated millions of viewers about what happened to EVs. Scott says the sequel is the "next installment of that historical record. These cars are absolutely coming back and with a vengeance."

When I asked Chris Paine what was the most amazing thing he learned over the 5 years of film production, he responded, "The amount of electricity it takes to make one gallon of gasoline. The oil companies don't want you to know. If you put the same amount of electricity in an electric car, you can go 20 miles, so why have this in-between step? I thought I knew everything, but clearly, I don't!"

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