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Revenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris Paine

Chris Paine takes EN! anchor Thalia Assuras for a ride in his Tesla Roadster

Environmental filmmaker Chris Paine has documented much of the modern history of electric vehicles in America. Five years ago, his film “Who Killed the Electric Car” accused U.S. automakers of killing EV development in the 1990’s by declaring them unprofitable and stifling battery development.

But now EVs are showing up on roads across the country, and Paine is out with a new movie declaring them back from the dead. Anchor Thalia Assuras interviewed Paine at his home and to hear about “Revenge of the Electric Car” and the future of EVs in America. You can watch the full interview below:

Paine had unprecedented access to auto manufacturers and their CEOs, including General Motors’ Bob Lutz, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Much like consumers, Paine thinks the shift in automakers’ attitudes toward EVs has more to do with economics than with going green. “The core reason of the electric car has nothing to do with the environment, it has to do with not importing oil,” said Paine.

Paine thinks that as oil prices have risen, consumers have sought more affordable transportation options. In his view, automakers made their u-turn toward EVs when they saw a market opportunity. “Carlos (Ghosn) is not an environmentalist,” he said. “He’s about the spreadsheet and the numbers.”

Even though Big Auto has gotten involved in the EV business, industry can’t succeed on its own, says Paine. “You have to have the government leading this,” he said. “You’re talking about…trying to break into a monopoly industry that’s a hundred years old – you’ve got to incent this technology or it won’t happen.”

Federal tax credits make it possible for EVs to compete with gasoline-powered cars while automakers work to bring down battery and technology costs, said Paine. “The Leaf is $32,000, and there’s a $7,500 tax credit, and in California, there was a $2,500 to $5,000 credit,” he said. “The Leaf we have, and I paid full retail price for it, ended up costing about $24,000.”

Another hurdle to consumer acceptance of EVs, range anxiety, will soon be a speck in the EV rear-view mirrors, says Paine. He points to the Chevy Volt’s ability to run on battery power with a gasoline backup as a way to alleviate driver anxiety, and thinks charging infrastructure will continue to spread like it has in Europe, where companies are building parking meters that double as charging stations.

While Paine is an unabashed EV booster, his positive outlook toward the technology comes from his personal life. He owns three EVs (a Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf, and Chevy Volt), and charges his home and vehicles with rooftop solar panels. His solar system provides 100 percent of the juice he needs for his cars, hot water, and home in the summer, and 60 percent in the winter.

Even though solar charging is key to realizing the environmental potential of EVs, says Paine, they’re still an environmental asset even if charging with electricity from the grid. “The issue is the word zero emissions – that’s the ideal of what they can be, if you have solar power,” he said. “I think the fact that you’re guaranteed 50 percent less emissions is, 100 percent improvement.”

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Revenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris Paine
Revenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris Paine

Revenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris PaineRevenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris Paine
Revenge of The Electric Car: Interview with Director Chris Paine
Category: Lifestyle