Still catching up with all that happened at the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention EVCCON 2011.
One of the “featured” speakers of the event was Chris Paine. I often ask people how they got started in electric vehicles as kind of a warm up question. The most common answer is “I saw this documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car, and it made me really angry.”
This answer comes up SO often, it is kind of a mantra among the people converting cars to electric drive. The documentary, and the first real availability of LiFePo4 cells from China, occurred almost on the same day. So the two are kind of inextricably linked. The enabling technology and the motivating force. I find this fascinating.
So we actually paid to have Chris Paine come address our first “convention” of electric car conversion enthusiasts.
The setting was supposed to be at my house. We were going to have kind of a private “car show” hood popper on the front lawn of the adjoining Southeast Missouri University River Campus School of Visual and Performing Arts. This is a very scenic setting literally right ON the banks of the Mississippi River, almost under the new suspension bridge which is very nicely lit at night. Jerrry Ford’s band, a kind of 40’s Big Band group of about 13 musicians, was to play and the local Port of Cape Girardeau was to cater the event.
It was thoroughly rained out.
So we moved the band and the food to the hangar where we were having sessions, and served dinner while Jerry Ford did his best to play Basil Poulidoris, along with the usual 1940’s hits. The music was FANTASTIC and the food very good.
Mr. Paine tried desperately to devine the party line and get some guidance on how to tune to the audience. Instead, I kind of described who was here, why they were here, and what they hoped to do hear and left it to hime what to talk about and what to show by way of documentaries. He did ask which I thought they would rather see, “Charged” or “Revenge of the Electric Car” and I mentioned that “Revenge” would undoubtedly be the overwhelming choice.
Revenge actually has gone into distribution, meaning the control of the rights and so forth has passed to another entity and the film is scheduled to open in theaters in late NOvember, actually in St. Louis it will open on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – a curious time to debut a film in theaters.
In any event, if a crowd shows up in theaters, this will cause some press attention, DVD sales etc and it is important that people turn out for the theatre release.
In any event, after dinner Paine addressed the group with a kind of alphabet presentation of various curious elements of the electric car universe and I would describe the audience as rapt. Kind of a special sermon to the choir in this case, he was very well received.
After some texting back and forth with his distribution manager, he decided to go ahead and screen “Revenge of the Electric Car.” This is where rain plays a role. We were able to completely darken the hangar and had a nine foot rear projection system on hand for the sessions. The result was a sparkling clear presentation of the documentary.
The documentary was NOT what I expected. The first documentary was a little simplistic for my tastes with very bad guys and very good guys and presented in an almost fairy tale like simplicity built around that. But it WAS motivating and I WAS angry at the end so it was enormously effective.
Somehow I expected Revenge to reverse this into a big hooray for GM and Nissan who now of course have products.
Instead, what we saw was a much more mature and developed view of four players in the EV space, with four different visions of an electric car future. It was a parallel comparison in many ways bizarrely presented with a Gregorian chant background and MUCH higher production values and camera work than Who Killed the Electric Car.
The four players were Bob Lutz with General Motors and the Volt, Carlos Ghosn with Nissan Motor Company, Elon Musk with Tesla Motors, and Greg “Gadget” Abbott of Left Coast Electric Conversions – a small conversion shop in California, ironically specializing in 1957 Porsche Speedster Replicas.
The documentary cycled between profiles of these players quite artfully, bringing out a number of interesting and indeed crucial points in the development of an electric car that could be adopted by the market. Bob Lutz came across as a big booming guy with a vision and a very corporate way of presenting his product. Carlos Ghosn was an almost steely autocratic leader betting his company’s fortune on electric cars surrounded by people who had only one answer for his every question – YES.
Elon Musk actually didn’t fair too well in the documentary I thought, but I rather lionize this guy as he is very much out of the Internet school and Silicon Valley. He came across as very devoted to the cause, but somehow struggling to master the exigencies of automobile production and with an uncertain future.
OF course, the surprise was the essentially equal treatment of Greg Abbott – identified only as Gadget in the film. Gadget operated a small conversion business out of a warehouse in Los Angeles. He specializes in reproduction Porsche’s, most notably 1957 Porsche Speedsers, converted of course to electric drive. I had two we had done on hand at the show, and Carey Hines of Special Editions Inc. had a roller on display in the vendor area, so this hit home pretty well.
Unbeknownst to Paine, there was a critical part of the documentary where they actually showed footage of Gadget’s warehouse – TOTALLY destroyed by fire. His workshop, all the cars, tools, and equipment just totally wiped out. The documentary vaguely asserted that the cause had been traced to ARSON.
Our group let out a totally collective SIGH at the sight right on cue. On the screen we could clearly see that most of the cars were burned, but largely intact with warehouse debris kind of toppled all over them. But a single car was burnt TO THE GROUND. The blackened debris you usually see at a natural fire, was not only not present, but the entire scene was in the by now familiar whitewash white/grey of an INTENSE battery fire. And incredibly, they showed Gadget pawing through the debris and holding the remnants of his BATTERY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND CHARGER up for all to see.
I quickly surveyed the room and the dawning realization was so total, I do not believe ANYONE in the room missed any part of this. To the point that I never mentioned it at all during the remainder of the EVCCON. There is a saying “when in a hole, stop digging.” The corollary is “when you’ve clearly won the battle, put down your sword.” There’s no point really in slaughtering the survivors. This film made this point, entirely accidentally, probably better than I have done in the past year. And I don’t think any single one of our attendees missed it at all.
All that aside from begging the question “Who would bother to burn down a small electric car conversion shop?” For what?
After the screening, Paine noted that he had brought a few copies of CHARGED his other documentary about electric motor cycle racing that he would make available for $20 each. They were “Gone in Sixty Seconds” to borrow another film title and he seemed genuinely surprised at the $400 per minute. He’d only brought 20 copies.
He then asked that we turn out as a “buzz” audience and encourage others to attend the theatre release as this is most important to its’ success. Everyone pretty much agreed to do that. Anne Knoppenberg asked if he would be interested in coming to speak and screen in Amsterdam. It was a comic moment when Chris repeated “Amsterdam?? Ahh..YES to that.”
He also held up his cell phone and announced he had a text from Gadget who regretted his lack of attendance and promised to join us at EVCCON next year.
After the showing, despite the late hour, Paine and a few of the attendees retired to our downtown area to visit The Library, a local bar frequented most notably by young female college students from the University and featuring an able selection of potable spirits.
And a good time was had by all.
I am not a film critic precisely, but I would rate REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR a must see. It presents a more mature and developed view of the difficulties faced by the men of vision who are striving to bring this technology to the masses. It rather left the question open, and so does not provide the satisfying anger of the first documentary. But for my tastes, it was a better film and in many ways more useful, and thought provoking. That a small conversion shop was profiled right along with Tesla was the surprise element we simply did not expect.
I would urge everyone to see this film. I found Chris Paine very intelligent, and most gracious in all respects.