On the Scene: Revenge of the Electric Car

sceneblogbwPortland State University and Portland General Electric brought filmmaker Chris Paine to Portland Thursday as part of the day-long forum on the future of electric cars at the 2011 Portland International Auto Show. The director of 2006’s award-winning “Who Killed the Electric Car?” presented an audience of several hundred people with a carload of ideas.

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By Emma Hall

Portland State University and Portland General Electric brought filmmaker Chris Paine to Portland Thursday as part of the day-long forum on the future of electric cars at the 2011 Portland International Auto Show. Paine is the director of 2006’s award-winning “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” which chronicles the birth and death of the electric car in America. Currently, Paine is editing his followup film, “Revenge of the Electric Car,” which follows the revived interest in EVs.

chris_paine“If any city is the capital of electric cars right now, it’s Portland,” Paine said. Major companies are choosing to debut their electric cars here in Portland, such as the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf and General Motors’ Volt are both on display at the auto show. Smaller local companies such as Arcimoto in Eugene and Brammo in Ashland are also growing rapidly.

Paine spoke to an audience in PSU’s Lincoln Hall the day before the conference. He chronicled his own personal love affair with the electric car, from his first EV (a Hot Wheels Sizzlers) to his current (a $100,000 Tesla). Paine showed clips from the upcoming documentary that had to be scrapped, and described an entire chapter that pitted San Francisco against Portland as home to the electric car, which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. After all, that’s what happens when you have to cut 406 hours of compelling film into a 90-minute movie, Paine explained.

With his shoulder-length hair, skinny jeans and glasses, Paine fit in better than a Portlandia extra. He presented 26 reasons why the world was turning to electric cars, from A to Z:

  • Air pollution
  • Brands
    • Paine explained that the car has become unsexy, and rather than coveting the newest sports car, teens and young drivers are drawn more to bicycles and services like Zipcar.
  • Cities and Climate change
  • Detroit
  • Electricity
    • Electric cars use clean power. “When electric cars came out in 1997, big NGOs said they were only transferring pollution from oil to coal,” Paine said. He explained that electric motors are so much more efficient, and when you take into account how much electricity it takes to make gasoline in the first place, electric cars really are the cleaner choice.
  • Fast and Furious, Futuristic and Fun
    • Using a Simpsons clip to drive home his point, Paine threw out the old misconception of electric cars being excruciatingly slow.
  • Geothermal
  • Horses
    • The last major change was the shift from horse-drawn carriages to cars a century ago. Even then, it was hard to convince people who were set in their ways. Paine likened that switch from horses to cars to the current switch from gas cars to electric cars.
  • Islands
    • Electric vehicles are perfect for islands, where residents only need to travel a short distance. However, Paine encouraged listeners to consider their own island-how often do you really drive outside of your own 100-mile radius that includes work, home and shopping?
  • Jobs
  • Kids
  • Lithium batteries
    • No longer outrageously expensive, cell phones and laptops helped make lithium batteries affordable.
  • Market forces
  • National security
    • “Less dependence on oil from the Middle East-enough said,” Paine quipped.
  • Obama
    • The President has called for one million electric vehicles to be on American streets by 2015.
  • Prius
  • Quality
  • Regenerative braking
  • Sun power
  • Tesla
  • Utilities
  • Volt
    • General Motor’s electric car was named the Motor Trend Car of the Year.
  • Warren Buffet
    • If Warren Buffet thinks it’s a smart choice to invest in electric vehicles, we should pay attention, Paine said.
  • XL electric cars
    • Increasingly, companies such as FedEx and local transit agencies are turning to large EVs.
  • You
  • Zeitgeist

Watch the trailer for Paine’s upcoming documentary below.

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.