Car Talk with Chris Paine

Susan Gerhard July 11, 2006

On this one point, Mel Gibson and I agree: Electric cars are cool. He was introduced to them in a General Motors pilot program, which sparingly leased out its EV1s to movers and shakers. I was introduced to them by my neighbor, who could seemingly convert any object into an electric vehicle. (By now, he may have now even converted his two story San Francisco home into an electric RV.) It was fascinating to watch the story of the EV1’s rise and untimely demise unfold with such elegant mystery in director Chris Paine’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which I got to see, along with an audience of hybrid drivers and my neighbor, during the San Francisco International Film Festival this past year. The film opened in San Francisco theaters last week, with the support of those EV activists, and SF360 got a chance to ask its director a few questions after his recent stop through the City.

SF360: Can you tell me about your own personal experience with your electric car? What you loved about it, anything that was difficult?

Chris Paine: I’ve had two electric cars — first GM’s EV1 and now Toyota’s Rav4EV. I’ve never had better cars. The key advantages are 1) almost no service or maintenance because there is no internal combustion engine and 2) never need to go to gas station for a fill up. The electric cars are always charged and ready to go when I wake up in the morning. I have a backup gas car for those days when I need to go more then 100 miles in a day, but I almost never use it. The EV1 was incredibly fast and handled beautifully. The Rav4EV carries four passengers so is a little more versatile. The only complaint is that I have to tell everyone who wants one that there are almost none left in existence.

SF360: Where did you first intersect with the activism about EV1? What was your initial feeling about the ‘conspiracy’ to kill (and bury!) the EV1?

Paine: My activism for the EV1 began when GM refused to let me keep my car. They refused to sell them and when the lease was over — they reclaimed them and destroyed it. Like other drivers, we were upset and what began as an effort to keep the cars became the beginning of an incredible mystery (some would say conspiracy) that led to the death of this generation of EVs. Hopefully our film will be part of the trick in getting these simple, low polluting electronic cars back on the road, especially since they run entirely on domestic electricity.