Electric Cars

I have owned electric cars since 1990. When the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of oil off the Alaskan coastline, I was very much on my high horse about it, ("Damn those oil companies" etc) until I realized that I was part of the reason that the Exxon Valdez was out there in the first place – my car needed gasoline as much as the next person’s to take me from one place to another in my daily life. With the advice of my friend Ed Begley Jr., I bought an old Datsun that had been converted to a full electric car. I plugged it into a 110 outlet in my garage, and I got 25 miles on a charge. A couple years later, I bought a red VW Rabbit that went 50 miles on a charge. In 1996, I became the proud driver of the first EV1 leased to the public. The EV1, by GM, was the first mass produced, from-the-ground-up (as opposed to being a gas car whose internal combustion engine is replaced with an electric motor) electric car . Mine was forest green, got 70 miles on a charge, and handled like a Porsche. A couple years later, improved battery technology in the EV1 allowed me to get 100 miles to a charge and then 120 miles to a charge. It was my only vehicle, and served 95% of my driving needs. When I needed to go farther, I borrowed Ian’s Toyota Prius.

In 2002, GM announced it would not re-lease its cars, and it would not allow anyone to purchase them either. 800 EV1s, except for a few going to museums or universities, were going to be dismantled and crushed. Perfectly functioning cars, each with over $13,000 of state and federal subsidies in them, destroyed. Even though hundreds of drivers like myself wanted to keep our electric vehicles, and there was a waiting list of over 5,000 people for the cars, GM claimed no one wanted them. On Kyoto Day, March 16, 2005, electric car supporters gathered in front of the GM Training Center in Burbank, California where the last 78 cars were being held before being transported to the Arizona crushing facility. A ‘round –the – clock vigil began, in 4 hour shifts, to protect these cars from being secretly shipped out. Within 2 days, 1.9 million was raised to buy each and every one of those cars, with the promise to absolve GM of any liability or warranties, but GM ignored our offer. It was the rainiest winter in 100 years for Los Angeles, but there was never a moment when someone wasn’t camped out on the sidewalk in front, keeping an eye on the parking lot filled with beautiful, doomed EV1s.

After 10 days, a car transporter came and took away 8 cars, and the vigilers could only stand there, impotent. I had volunteered for several 5am-9am shifts, but switched to 9am- noon when I realized the transport trucks tended to come at that time. On day 27, during my shift, 2 transport truck arrived and began to load up trucks. The phone tree swung into action and by noon there were a dozen protesters outside the facility. With fellow EV driver Collette Divine in the passenger seat, I drove my Toyota RAV electric car to block the transporters as they attempted to leave. This resulted in a 2 hour standoff, where 20 Burbank police tried to get us to back down. Finally, a locksmith was called and he jimmied open our doors and the police led Colette and I to the paddy wagon where we were taken to the police station and booked. Media outlets from all over recorded the civil disobedience, and soon the story of GM crushing electric cars was reported all over the world. Alas, that couldn’t save the EV1. Collette and I were released after 5 hours with orders to show up in court in a couple weeks, and the next morning I was out doing the 9am-noon shift again when EIGHT transporters showed up and loaded up all the remaining cars as fast as possible. GM was done with the protesters, the media, the EV1. Our fearless leader, Chelsea Sexton, with EV activist David Lane, followed the transporters to the Arizona crushing facility, so we know they met the same unlucky fate as hundreds of their EV brethren.

Josh Needle, an EV advocate who is also a lawyer, represented Collette and I gratis (thank you, Josh!). We were sentenced to 80 hours of community service for the environmental or voting organizations of our choice. I did my time with The First Vote, The Electric Car Association and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and on October 31 had done 100 hours. My charges were expunged from the record at that time. Colette volunteered for Treepeople.

The activists involved with trying to save the EV1 (www.saveev1.org) did manage to save the Toyota RAV4 electric car from being crushed (www.dontcrush.com). The Ford Ranger EVs have also been saved, as have the EV Ford Think!s (www.thinkelectric.org), but the electric Honda EV+ and the Nissan Ultima are seen less and less on the roads. To learn more about the struggle to save the electric car, look for the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? (www.evconfidential.com), premiering at Sundance in January, 2006.

I am now involved with Plug in America (www.pluginamerica.com) , an organization that supports electric cars and is pushing for a plug in hybrid (PHEV), a car that runs fully electric for 50-100 miles, and then switches to gas if you need to go farther. Since most trips are shorter than 40 miles, this will mean that most Americans will rarely be using the gasoline in their cars.

I continue to drive my Toyota RAV4 EV, which I love (but not as much as I loved my EV1, I have to admit). Ian drives the Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle (an electric motor helps propel the car alongside the gas engine, and the gas engine turns off at speeds lower than 15 mph, which means no pollution at stop lights and in stop’n’go traffic. The car also burns much more cleanly than a regular gas car). We also share, with my sister, an old truck that runs on biodiesel (www.biodiesel.org) , which we keep at our ranch home in central California.

Alexandra’s Activism

  • Video of Alexandra’s speech at the Women in Green Forum.
  • Video of Alexandra’s speech at the GreenEST Plug-In Conversion Rally.
  • Protest against General Motors.
  • A speech Alexandra gave at an EV1 rally.
  • Alexandra’s interview with EV World.
  • Alexandra’s interview with the New York Times.
  • Alexandra’s interview with As It Happens, a Canadian public radio show. (requires real player)
  • Filming of the Plug In America PSAs Alexandra produced.

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