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The Electric Car Rides Again

In his 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, the director Chris Paine attempted to get to the bottom of the case of...

In his 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, the director Chris Paine attempted to get to the bottom of the case of the short-lived EV1-General Motors' first foray into plug-in cars, nearly all of which were ignominiously pulled off the road and crushed in 2003. Now, with all major car companies working on their own version of the plug-in, Paine has picked up his camera again to document the revival.GOOD: So you're working on a sequel?Chris Paine: Yeah. We're tracking down the big carmakers, and then we're tracking what Silicon Valley and well-financed independents are doing; looking at both electric cars and plug-in hybrids. The film is only focusing on plug-in cars, because I believe that renewable electricity is the killer app, and the hybrids are already old technology. I am no longer impressed by the Prius or the high-mileage car; until Toyota and everybody else gives us a plug on those cars, it's old technology. So we're trying to ascertain if, in fact, the revolution is coming.G: What's changed between the first movie, where the conclusion was that the electric car was dead, and now, where you're documenting the various efforts of the car companies to reintroduce electric cars?CP: The first film was about how change just stops because you have interests and forces that don't want to stop making the money they are used to making. So the car companies-not just General Motors, but all of them-went after these regulations that California had set up. And if those regulations had not been dismantled, it would have put everybody way ahead of the game. We would have had, arguably, hundreds of thousands of plug-in vehicles on the road today if they hadn't overturned those regulations in 2000. The next film is about how change happens anyway; it perseveres. We don't know how it's going to end up, but I think it may be a much more hopeful story. And what's happened since our film came out is that every major carmaker has said they are adding an electric car or plug-in to their portfolios.G: So you envision a future where everyone is driving a plug-in car?CP: The one mistake they made last time was saying that gasoline and diesel are the solution for everybody, for every transportation need. I don't think there's just one kind of car for the future. I think that there'll be a place for biofuel, a place for gasoline, a place for cleaner diesel. But I think the primary thing would be for cars and trucks to have a plug-in feature on them to allow them to take advantage of the efficiencies of electricity. We like to point out the studies that the NRDC did that found that even when you're running plug-in cars off of a 100-percent-coal grid, that car is still cleaner-not remarkably cleaner, but cleaner-than a gasoline vehicle. And the advantage with electricity, of course, is that you don't have to make electricity just with coal.G: Right, because for the electric cars to really make a difference it requires a second step, which is totally revamping where we get our electricity from.CP: Yes. I would say we don't have to wait for a total revamping. Right now there are zero electric cars on the road, statistically. And so we can build plug-in vehicles at the same time that we're putting up our new electrical system. And as we rebuild, hopefully Obama will help push to finally clean up coal; and then you've got geothermal going online, and hopefully some of these solar stations happening. So I'm really optimistic about the future. That's why we're calling the next film Revenge of the Electric Car.G: What kind of car do you drive?CP: I'm driving my 2004 Toyota RAV4 EV, and it's part of the generation 1.0 of pure electric driving cars. It gets 100 miles on a charge, and these cars have been driving for 150,000 miles without battery-pack changes. I'm pretty happy with that. I also have a Tesla. We put a Tesla in our first film and the producer put me up to buying one, and I'm glad I did when I had the money.G: It goes really fast, right?CP: It goes really fast and it puts me in midlife-crisis mode because it's so beautiful that people figure I'm one of those guys. I'm willing to take that to get to drive it.

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