Electric vehicles shuttled the party goers from the bottom of the hill, where the valet service contended with one Prius after another, to the still-under-construction home of Chris Paine, the film maker behind Who Killed the Electric Car. The attendees met pool-side where they were able to ogle the latest in electric cars - the Tesla, the EcoElectrics Speedster EV (with 125 mile radius and retailing for $55,000 come January) and the GM Volt. On hand were also numerous Rav EVs, electric scooters and motorcycles, as well as a refurbished electric Corvette.
Headlining the event (in addition to the newly delivered Tesla belonging to Plug-In America's President, Linda Nicholes) were Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize winning L.A. Times reporter - famously quoted in Paine's film saying that GM would make a car that ran on pig shit if it made a buck - and James Woolsey, former CIA director. I asked Woolsey what he was doing at an event about electric cars at which point he informed me that he is the official feral pet of the California electric car community. And he seems to enjoy his status.
A few years ago, Woolsey was running a war game for California Congresswoman Jane Harman, he told me. At the time, Harman was the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. One of the issues they were looking at was what would happen if there was a complete cut off of imported oil to the United States. Woolsey came to the conclusion that the U.S. needed to move toward electric vehicles, for both security and environmental reasons, as quickly as possible. In the audience when Woolsey was giving his report was Chelsea Sexton, former GM manager of the EV1, star of Paine's film and former Executive Director of Plug In America. Sexton approached Woolsey afterwards and told him that his partner, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, had an electric vehicle back in the 1990's and they started talking. Thus began his relationship with the electric vehicle community.
I asked Woolsey what he feels has been the hold up with moving to electric and alternative fuel vehicles and Woolsey places the blame on our obsessions with hydrogen. His take is that hydrogen fuel cells have lots of uses, maybe even for fuel, but it will require something like $1 trillion in infrastructure. On the other hand, he said "when I picked up my Prius plug-in conversion, I stopped by Wal-Mart on my way home and picked up my infrastructure for $39.95 - a 100 foot cord. I could have gone cheaper and bought the 40 foot for $29.95, but I thought I would splurge." Woolsey's car now gets 150 - 200 miles per gallon and he estimates he pays about 2.5 cents per mile. He believes that consumers are just starting to understand the money saving potential of electric vehicles and are eager to have them available.
When speaking to the group, Woolsey brought up the $600 billion - $700 billion we spend each year on imported oil, while simultaneously fighting a war against terrorism with some of these same countries. He also pointed out that this is the first war since the Civil War where we are paying for both sides. He sees electric vehicles as an opportunity to "deal a deadly blow to our oil dependence," while addressing another "huge crisis" - the fact that we are putting too much carbon into the atmosphere.
If the increasing number of electric conversion and electric vehicle companies at the Alternative Car Expo this past weekend was any indication, we are getting close to dealing that deadly blow. One of my favorites, a family owned business called Electric Blue out of Arizona, is converting Chevy trucks and SUVs (as well as the Toyota Yaris) to electric vehicles. Sales Director Dustin Donahue explained to me "hey, if they want an SUV, we'll give them an SUV. We'll just give them one that doesn't pollute."