The EVolution of the EV Revolution

My wife Zan Dubin Scott  and I are activists for electric cars. We didn’t mean to be, but we were kind of forced into it.

Back in 2002, I chanced upon a website where people were talking about electric cars.  The things they were saying sounded almost too good to be true. These were not the low speed EVs sometimes derided as golf carts, these were full function, highway capable cars, trucks and SUVs. I had recently installed a 3 kW solar photovoltaic system on my house, so all of my electricity was now generated by sunlight falling on my roof. Since I had always tried to reduce my gasoline usage, it seemed a perfect solution to buy a car that could run on those very same kilowatt-hours. As it happened, only Toyota was willing to actually sell their EV, the versatile RAV4, a small SUV. After our first test drive, we jumped at the chance, bought one and took possession of it on winter solstice 2002.

We were now running our house and our car on sunlight, no pollution well-to-wheels, no more of our money going to foreign countries for oil, and just as important, none of our money paying for the bombs and bullets that were killing our soldiers. We thought everyone would follow our lead. The future felt bright in spite of the turmoil in the world at the time.

One week later, we were informed that Toyota was stopping production on their EV. The electric vehicle program was unceremoniously shut down, leaving thousands of eager customers in line for a car that was no longer available.

Here we were with first hand knowledge of a technology that could literally change the world for better in massively significant ways; elimination of all pollution connected to driving a car and most of the pollution connected to running a household; keeping hundreds of billions of dollars from leaving the country to purchase foreign oil, money that could instead be used to hire workers to install solar panels and windmills; and finally, eliminating the need to fight wars over oil. We’ve never fought a war for electricity, and we never will.

Yet the one piece of the puzzle that could make all of this happen, the vehicle that ran on electricity, was taken away. Given that we, along with a few dozen other Californians, knew this truth first hand, we decided to become activists and fight the car companies over the crushing of their cars. It was very clear to us that the whole world needed to understand this truth, and as soon as possible. Being naive, we had no idea how hard it would ultimately be.

There followed three years of protests in the hot sun and the pouring rain, around the clock in some cases. Whatever it took. We protested in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in front of car dealers, state regulators and, as depicted in the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, we protested for 28 straight days around the clock in front of GM’s training facility in Burbank, CA.

Our efforts got picked up here and there, including in the LA Times, Washington Post and the New York Times. And when the film premiered in June of 2006 the whole story was finally revealed in great detail. It was then that everything changed.

The film resonated with Americans who had been brought up on rumors of magical additives and super-carburetors that had been quietly bought up and hidden from the public, all to keep everyone from reducing their need for oil. Well, rumor or true, those paled in comparison to a car that not only ran without any gas at all, but also ran quicker, ran quieter and didn’t pollute one bit. “Zero Emission Vehicle” they called it, ZEV for short. These cars represented everything the carmakers despised. They required virtually no maintenance and lasted a long time, and considering that the auto industry gets about 40% of its profit from parts and maintenance, the car industry wanted nothing to do with them.

As thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of Americans saw the film, word spread that this technology did indeed work. It worked so well in fact that years later, the original cars from the California experiment were still running exactly the same as when they were new. With no maintenance and no deterioration, and the ability to run on domestic fuel with no pollution, people were starting to pay attention.

Then the hammer came down – $4/gallon.

I had thought maybe $3/gallon would do it, but I was wrong, we blew right through that price and SUVs kept rolling out of the car lots. But, when the magic $4 was announced as the nationwide average, you could feel the shift. The price continued to go up and people began to hurt a lot. The pundits speculated on the ultimate price, while the most pivotal Presidential election in our lifetime was heating up. The high price of fuel, coupled with a growing recession, mortally wounded a domestic auto industry saddled with bloated, inefficient vehicles.

We now find ourselves in a different world from just a few years ago. The Obama administration is intent on reducing pollution from dirty fuels and also reducing our dependence on foreign oil. As external costs are internalized in the price of oil, and the scarcity of peak oil is fully understood, the cost of gas and diesel will rise dramatically.

Coincident with this, we now find that every carmaker on the planet is in development on plug-in vehicles of all shapes and sizes. From powerful motorcycles to small city cars, from blindingly fast sports cars to trucks capable of hauling 60,000 lbs, all manner of plug-in vehicles are racing to get to market first. We find start up companies in Silicon Valley competing with the “Crumbling Three” of Detroit. There are even start-ups rising Phoenix-like out of the ashes of GM facilities in Indiana. And all of them are competing with well-funded companies out of China and India. China is even publicly announcing that it will lead the world in EV production, a shot across the bow of Carlos Ghosn’s Nissan who lays claim to the same goal.

On the ground, our little protest group had morphed into a grown up advocacy organization with 15,000 active members and a sophisticated working board that helps federal and state regulators and legislators devise incentives to get plug-ins to market. We are the go-to organization for media the world over when they want to report on this movement from the perspective of the consumer, because we are those people. We have been using this technology for six to ten years and know what it means to drive a car that doesn’t pollute, doesn’t make noise and doesn’t put our country at risk. Soon, all our friends and neighbors will get to experience what we’ve been experiencing, and this time, there’ll be no attempted murder of a technology, just sweet revenge.

By Paul Scott
5.11.2009

Paul Scott, a lifelong environmental activist, co-founded Plug In America (PIA) in 2005 to galvanize support and advocate for the manufacture of Electric Vehicles and plug-in hybrids that reduce America’s dependence on petroleum and improve the global environment. As one of the nonprofit organization’s most visible leaders, he is regularly interviewed by media coast to coast and works with auto industry officials, consumers and local, state and federal policymakers to advance clean car technology.

Paul helped create Don’tCrush.com, PIA’s predecessor, a grassroots group that single-handedly prevented some 1,000 production EVs from being destroyed by the auto companies that manufactured them. His work with both groups has included strategic campaign research, planning and execution. He is among the key figures featured in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” the 2006 documentary distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Paul works professionally as a consultant for SolarCity, a solar installation firm. He owns a Toyota RAV4 EV, which he drives on sunshine generated by the photovoltaic panels on his own roof in Santa Monica. He is President of the Electric Vehicle Assn. of Southern California and Vice President of Plug In America.

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17 Responses

  1. No pollution? In the manufacture and use of a 2,500-pound automobile?

    Go sell your soap somewhere else, Paul. On this site, we oppose cars-first transportation in all its forms.

    P.S. All of your electricity is NOT generated by the sun hitting your roof. What about the energy embedded in your solar panels? Surely, those didn’t magically appear on your roof. I won’t even mention the resources it takes to make your life there in Southern California viable, in a place where the population is probably 100 times what the local resource base could ever sustain on its own.

    And what’s your proposal for those of us who don’t receive 350 days of sunshine a year?

  2. Michael, sorry you seem to be upset with what I wrote. My intention was not to anger you, but to explain how my family was able to reduce our oil consumption while still maintaining a normal lifestyle. You are correct that it took energy to manufacture the solar panels and the car, too, for that matter. It also took energy and resources to build the house I live in, and the one you live in.

    There is no free lunch. Any human alive today uses resources and energy. The point we make is that people need to reduce their impact on the environment as much as possible.

    You say you oppose cars-first transportation on this site. How successful have you been? From my perspective, there are more cars today on our roads than there were yesterday. It seems that you either aren’t very effective in your efforts, or you aren’t trying hard enough. Since I’m a realist, I’m going to work to get cars that at least don’t use fossil fuels so the good people who still need to drive will at least have a choice to drive a car that uses cleaner, cheaper domestic energy instead of dirty, expensive foreign oil.

    Your argument is actually one for a reduced population. My wife and I are population activists first and EV/energy activists second. We have endowed three vasectomy funds with Planned Parenthood offices in Eugene, Pasadena and Los Angeles. Through our donations, and others contributing to the funds, we have prevented many unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and undoubtedly some births of children who were not wanted. This is, in its small way, a very important act.

    Rather than rail at EVs and solar energy, your energies might be better used to help reduce the population through voluntary means.

    Lastly, to answer your question about my proposal for those of you who don’t have 350 days of sunshine, I’d suggest contacting your local utility and asking to be put on their renewable energy program. If you are in Eugene, EWEB has a great program. Once your home is on renewable energy, then when you get a EV, you are zero pollution well-to-wheels. If you are concerned about clean energy, I’d have to ask why you haven’t already done this?

  3. A self-appointed realist. That’s usually a dangerous thing.

    Lovely sentiments, too, about population. Other people should restrict themselves so you can have your $50,000 electric SUV. I won’t even mention that population isn’t going to slow or drop in a humane way without radical economic redistribution of the planet’s resources. Planned Parenthood offices in wealthy hippie towns are utterly irrelevant.

    And energy consumption doesn’t seem to fit into your calculus, does it? Driving around town in an electric SUV is like slicing bread with a chainsaw. It’s not responsible or sustainable. Not even close.

    • Wow, you guys are a tough crowd! You sure seem to be good at shooting down any ideas that might solve some of our problems, but I haven’t seen any solutions coming from you. Maybe you don’t have any. Maybe all you are capable of is throwing stones.

      What are your solution to the problems?

      Also, do you EVER drive a vehicle (or ride in one) that uses internal combustion? If so, what is your justification?

      Do you buy food from vendors that receive the food via internal combustion?

      Do your friends drive internal combustion? If so, do you castigate them, too? Oh, right, people like you don’t have friends because who would ever want to hear your ranting-without-solutions tirades?

      Please, do enlighten me as to how you are working to solve our problems. And if your solutions involve ideas that will never be implemented, please share with us your justification for living.

  4. Paul, you seem not to have thought very hard about areas in which you claim to be a great, passionate leader.

    First of all, YOU rely on internal combustion, just like all of us. It’s a collective matter of infrastructure. So, surviving within it is a completely different thing than taking a stance over its politics.

    Meanwhile, we do have solutions here. Radical reconstruction of our towns and cities to get away from automobile dependency. Promote walking, cycling, and public transit. It’s not a complicated thing. It’s only politically forbidden.

    Your car fetish is a harmful distraction from it.

    What the hell reception did you expect? This is “carfree,” not “carfetish.”

    Grow up.

  5. P.S. to Paul: “ideas that will never be implemented” according to you, are a death sentence. Kind of like what you prescribe to those who can’t afford to live in LA and spend $50,000 on an electric yuppie wagon.

    I’d put my ideas up against yours any day, in terms of what’s likely to ever be implemented.

    Meanwhile, stop threatening other people with death and sterilization.

  6. Michael, a question? Where is “here” for you? Is it possible solutions might need to be regional, and stepwise in huge cities like San Diego?

    Second, I don’t know if you have ever studied logic but one should be careful with analogies. Donating money to people who want vasectomies is nothing like forced sterilization. Nor is pointing out that there is an argument, yours or otherwise, for reducing population a “threat of death or sterilization.” Paul made no threat.

    Finally, Michael, and I feel about 8 right now in saying this: you don’t own this site. Marko is kind enough to let different people float different solutions with one similar value: reducing pollution and reducing the use of IC cars. I haven’t ever read that CarBusters is 100% anti every single KIND of car, nor have I seen a rule that only those who hate cars and will work for their total destruction are allowed on this site. Obviously this is not a “pure” anti-car site because, well, we are being showcased on it. That does not mean Marko and the editors agree with us. It means they find the discussion worth having.

    What did any of us expect? A reasoned discussion without name calling and deliberately and misleadingly finding most far flung worst representation of one’s argument. Paul is not promoting cars in general, he is trying to find a way for us to downsize our own carbon footprints right now. Do you really live outside the system that fully? Where do you live? How do you do it?

    Please consider arguing like an adult. Try reason instead of hatred and hostility. I thought I had seen better in you. Reasonable people can disagree, and if you really want to be helpful, have a reasoned debate, not just flippant cruel words. I expect better from you, I even think I have seen better from you.

    And I would look up the word “fetish.” You are over-reacting and your language reflects it. Paul is not a guy obsessed with cars. He is a guy searching for solutions, and not in a sick way. Don’t tell him to grow up. Model it for him if you really think that. By talking like an adult. Amy

  7. It is great to see that the book “The End of the Road” leads to “lively” discussions. It is one of the purpose to publish it.
    The WCN is mainly promoting alternatives to cars and making advocacy for offering to people a real choice. Currently, we don’t always really have the choice to leave carfree (although it’s my case and the case of most of people connected with WCN).
    There are different ways to approach problems connected with the car-system and different paths to improve our mobility (and tackle its social and environmental impacts). The book “The End of the Road” provides a point of view.
    WCN is of course much closer from the approach of Andy Singer (cf. https://worldcarfree.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/end-of-the-road-transportation-politics/) than the approach of Paul Scott.
    Nevertheless we have to respect all positions and this platform is meant to be a place for constructive discussions. We don’t want to discuss only among people already convinced that we should radically change the car-system now.
    The issue of car-dependency is huge and complicate.
    So, please discuss, please disagree, please have opposite point of views, but please try to have discussions as constructive as possible. thank you very much!
    Best,

    marko

    “The World Carfree Network brings together organisations and individuals dedicated to promoting alternatives to car dependence and automobile-based planning at the international level. It is working to reduce the human impact on the natural environment while improving the quality of life for all.”

  8. Amy, Paul wrote “if your solutions involve ideas that will never be implemented, please share with us your justification for living.” How do you read that? The plain meaning seems to be that if you don’t share Paul’s ideas, you are a waste of carbon.

    So, I apologize for saying Paul’s for forced sterilization. He’s merely in favor of the die-off of all people who aren’t electric car boosters.

    Meanwhile, here for me is Portland, Oregon. I agree that solutions must include localization. For Southern California, the first requirement of sustainability would be massive out-migration to bring the population back into line with the region’s resource base. Whether or not spending precious electricity-generating capacity on automobiles would make sense either regionally or nationally thereafter is hardly a small question. So, why does Paul grant himself the right to presume that issue is uncontroversial?

    Of course, all he wants to talk about is pollution. He seems to believe that, since he can run his SUVs with his rooftop panels, then it must be right and good.

    But there are only going to be so many solar panels and so many people able to spend $100,000 to set themselves up for electric SUVs, even in desert climes. We need to be facing our overall energy problems and subjecting them to democracy. Anything short of that is part of the problem, not the solution.

  9. Michael, I think, first, that your initial replies to people’s ideas sometimes assume the worst motivations, and it shows up as hostility and insult. I think to some degree Paul was being human and hitting back after feeling attacked. Of course hitting back is not the right answer. But he is human. You are arguing for a paradigm shift that will take pursuasion not bullying, I am sorry that is how you sound a great deal of the time. Not so much to me anymore, but its not effective.

    Second, I think Paul might have been responding very seriously to your point about how in the world do we deal with highly over-populated areas. People are not going to flock away from a place like San Diego easily or soon. I can’t imagine what government enticements would get that to happen. So he is working on what he can do right now, in one of the most polluted areas of the country, because like you he does care about that.

    Third, I think you have got to assume intelligence on the part of the person you are talking to. Paul well knows that it takes carbon and other pollutants to produce electric cars. It takes them to produce almost everything we have. But we have to start somewhere. Where would you start taking on agribusiness. Its one enormous system. Short of a revolution, which does not appear to be on the table, we have to get people to see the value in changing their behavior, and perhaps getting used to change incrementally. But in our proposal, for instance, a 50% reduction in one family’s carbon output, which is what we are arguing for and saying is possible right now, thats a pretty big increment.

    You are an idealist. That is a wonderful thing. But idealists are let down hard all the time by the real world. It hurts, and you (sorry for getting all psychology on you, I don’t mean disrespect one iota) snap back. You see the big picture and how it could be. That is great. Fight for it, but keep helping us understand how we can use your ideas to make a difference in our own lives, within the short time frame we have. Stop shooting, thats all I can say.

    Paul is not against you. He and his wife don’t have kids so they have more disposable income. Its easy to see that as elitist but hey I have three kids, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars will I spend on them over the years. That is the choice I made, and in the situation we have right now I might choose differently, less or no kids. That does not mean I regret my children or don’t love them with all my heart. I doubt if Paul is rich. But he has a decent job and so does his wife, so they have money for the causes they beieve in. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt; start there.

    It really hurt him, and me otherwise, to hear you call him a Nazi. He is not Jewish but I am, that is a cruel name. What is his worst crime? Trying to make things better with a method you do not think will work. Start from there. You mistook his sarcasm and his self-defense as a call for death and destruction. That was hardly the case. Thank you for asking me about this. I think you can become a much better advocate for your causes if you are less reactive, even if you disagree 100%. People want to hear your views, but can’t when they feel attacked. That is just human nature. Read over your words through this whole long discussion, ask yourself honestly where you begin to plain insult people, instead of responding to their reasoning with reason, not platitudes or accusations or thinking they are malevalent or idiots. All the best, Amy

  10. Amy, Paul thinks the world is overpopulated and he wrote what _he_ wrote about “excuses for living.” You ought to be talking to Paul. When you say things like that, they sound familiar to people who recognize the reaction.

    And, again, I really don’t understand you neo-car fans feel burned by what you post on car free blogs. Personally, I’d say the fact that you hope this place is going to embrace you is a sign of how impractical your supposedly “realist” schemes are. People aren’t stupid. Cars aren’t sustainable.

    Welcome to the world.

    • You don’t think the world is overpopulated? You didn’t listen to me when I explained the further comment and its source, responding humanly to an attack.

      Neo-car fans?

      We hoped to be embraced?

      I think not. Are you saying there are only two possibilities; people embrace our ideas or attack with with deliberate misreading? You are an ideologue Michael. Your ears are shut. None of us has time for this, sorry Michael. You are free to post as you wish.

  11. Super, Amy. The world might be overpopulated, but we’d only know that if everybody had a decent shot at a fair share of the planet’s resources. And the only way the world is going to decline in population in any humane way is through global economic redistribution. That’s just a stone cold fact. Vasectomies are irrelevant. To talk about the subject without putting these things first is spectacularly arrogant and vicious. I won’t mention the n-word.

    Meanwhile, being called an ideologue by the likes of you is simply funny. By the way, why the super-close monitoring of this site? Don’t you have hordes lining up to spend $150,000 in SoCal so they can stall out in rush hour on I-5?

    What do Europeans think of all this electric car fetishism? How about us Yanks?

  12. See? You engender an interesting discussion, mean though it is, engage us, for good or ill, and you call it “super-close monitoring.” What an interpretation. Ever written a book? Know what it is like to be curious about the discussion it is provoking? That seems to be too innocent or narcissistic a motivation for you. Ok. Whatever.

  13. I wasn’t aware this post had anything to do with your book, Amy. I apologize for that.

  14. One chapter of our book is being published each Friday til the whole thing is on. That will take many months. That is what you have been seeing. That was Marko’s gracious offer to us. That is why we have been a bit shocked at the proprietary nature of your replies.

  15. Even the recent article by Andy Singer which you liked was something he wrote for our book, despite not agreeing with all of our premises. The table of contents was posted some time back. It is also at our own blog, though we will not take on any hostility there; disagreement yes, hostility and insults no. Nor are we going to respond to those kind of replies here anymore either. I think I tried to reach out to you respectfully. You did not seem to care or reply in kind. You might take note of a great like Andy Singer being glad to work with us. He shared many cartoons with us as well.

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