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‘Revenge of the Electric Car’ director Chris Paine on the state of EVs

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After the Nissan LEAF became the world’s first mass-market electric car in 2010, it took the United States a decade before one million electric vehicle (EV) sales were made nationwide. It took the country just two more subsequent years to repeat that total, and now in 2023, the U.S. is projected to reach one million EV sales before the year’s end, a record-breaking figure.

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With governments around the globe currently setting a goal of all-electric vehicle sales within the next 20 years, getting more EVs on the road has become a common goal for a growing number of state, federal, and international lawmakers. Yet, filmmaker Chris Paine, widely known for his documentary works on the electric vehicle industry, remembers chronicling the early stages of this now rapidly expanding sector, back when today’s aspirations of mass EV adoption were still a very distant future.

“We’re definitely in act two. I don’t know if it’s like a five act opera or a three act movie. But we’re not where we were 20 years ago,” Paine said of the ongoing EV transition. “Now we’re at millions and millions of electric cars, I think the worldwide market is something like 18% of all vehicles sold. It’s a huge, huge shift. And yet, most people don’t have electric cars. There’s questions about them still. And we don’t know what these next few years are gonna look like. But a lot of people are betting that it’s going to be pretty electric.”

Paine directed “Who Killed the Electric Car” in 2006, followed by the 2011 sequel “Revenge of the Electric Car.” Both films received nominations for Best Documentary from the Environmental Media Awards, with the latter winning the honor.

The first film delved into the initial struggles of bringing electric vehicles to the market, while Paine’s second film explored the renaissance of electric vehicles.

“We made ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’ because they repossessed my electric car from 2000. And we weren’t allowed to keep the cars and we thought, ‘Well, what’s going on? Why are the car companies so against electric vehicles?’ And obviously that’s changed,” Paine said. “All car companies are now really all in on it. When we made the second film about the rise of Tesla, and GM’s shift in strategy, and Nissan, that was more like, ‘Okay, the electric car is coming back.'”

As automakers have increasingly embraced putting more resources toward electric vehicle production, with industry leaders doubling their spending on the sector to nearly $1.2 trillion through 2030, the overall car market share of EVs has risen from around 4% in 2020 to 14% in 2022. The market is poised to further jump up to 18% this year. However, concerns remain over whether the “explosive growth” will ultimately plateau.

“If you look at the way that people gave up on horses slowly, I think gas cars overtook horses in 1924, or something.” Paine said. “And there’s like real little ripples, the industry can’t catch up or the price isn’t right. There’s always going to be pull backs in growth.

“But I think just the value proposition of not having to buy gasoline, having all your energy made in the U.S., which is what electricity is, and also the kind of superior performance … most people will just find a better driving experience. And that’s going to keep this thing growing.”

Though overall EV sales continue to rise, the growth rate of sales in the U.S. has dropped by more than 20% in the first half of the year. However, long-term EV sales projections still remain optimistic for the future of the industry, as multiple studies have predicted vehicle electrification will grow to likely encompass two-thirds of global car sales by 2030.

“There’s a lot of, whenever you have big changes, just tremendous amounts of fear and misinformation and doubt about it,” Paine said. “And frankly, most people don’t really want to change what they’re doing unless they really understand that it’s gonna be better for them.”

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ANCHOR

THE U-S IS ON TRACK TO SEE OVER A MILLION EV SALES THIS YEAR. A RECORD NUMBER. BUT IT TOOK NEARLY A QUARTER-CENTURY FOR US TO GET HERE. AND THOUGH NOW YOU’LL FIND PLENTY OF GOVERNMENTS THE WORLD-OVER ADVOCATING FOR A FULL-TRANSITION TO ELECTRIC TRANSPORTATION – FILMMAKER CHRIS PAINE REMEMBERS A TIME WHERE THAT WAS JUST A PIPE DREAM.

 

PAINE DIRECTED THE 2006 FILM “WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR” AND ITS 20-11 SEQUEL “REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR.”

BOTH EARNED NOMINATIONS FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA AWARDS WITH THE LATTER WINNING THE HONOR.

 

THE FIRST INSTALLMENT DOCUMENTED THE EARLY STRUGGLES WITH GETTING AN E-V TO MARKET, WHILE THE SECOND FILM EXAMINED THE SUBSEQUENT BOUNCEBACK THAT ELECTRIFIED CARS EXPERIENCED.

WHILE HYPE IS HIGH FOR E-VS IN 20-23 – HAS THE MARKET HIT ITS CEILING? OR ARE MORE RECORD SALES NUMBERS ON THE HORIZON?

CHRIS PAINE JOINS US TO DISCUSS WHERE THE INDUSTRY GOES FROM HERE.

 

ANCHOR
Chris, your films documented the ups and downs of electric vehicles since the early 2000s. From the death of GMC v1, and then later revenge led by Tesla, Nissan, where are we in the electric vehicles journey today?

 

CHRIS
Well, we’re definitely an act two. I don’t know if it’s like a five act opera or a three act movie. But we’re not where we were 20 years ago, we had when we made that first film about the GME v one there were literally like 5000 electric vehicles on the road highway capable vehicles. And by the end of that they were like almost zero. So now we’re at millions and millions of electric cars, I think the market is up to what worldwide market is something like 18% of all vehicles sold. It’s a huge, huge shift. And yet, most people don’t have like cars. There’s questions about them still. And we don’t know what the hell what these next few years are gonna look like. But a lot of people are betting that it’s going to be pretty electric.

 

ANCHOR
What would you say is currently the biggest challenge to getting more EVs on the road? What’s the biggest hurdle to that future of being more electric?

 

CHRIS

Well, as you know, just anecdotally, I’d say that we’re the pickup trucks, you know, it’s there’s a lot of people to cars are great, but a lot of people would like to get a truck that they could count on. And you’re coming. The Chinese certainly have a lot on and the Ford F 150s. Out there. reviens got a truck, but they’re still really expensive. They’re not readily available. So I think that’s a big one. The second one would be chargers, and we live in Los Angeles. So it’s a complete no brainer in California to have an Eevee or an SUV. There are chargers everywhere, especially for Tesla’s but a lot of places people just aren’t sure they don’t want to get stuck. They don’t worry, gas station is where’s charger. And there’s a lot of money being put into that. Especially for delivery vehicles. Ironically, I think the Apartment Building Challenge is a little bit more complicated. But yeah, those would be the top two issues, I’d say.

 

ANCHOR

Yeah, range anxiety is definitely something that we’ve seen consumers be wary of when going out to purchase electric vehicle. You mentioned all that money that’s going in to more charging infrastructure. When we look at the bipartisan infrastructure bill, how do you feel that money that they’re putting into more charging infrastructure with that piece of legislation will ultimately kind of assuage some of these fears?

 

CHRIS

No, I’m not a fan of putting chargers at every Walmart, or CVS and so forth. Because, you know, when you really want to charge, you don’t want to 10 minutes of charge, you’d like to be able to just charge at night, when you’re sleeping at your house or your apartment building. Or you want to be on the road and there’s a big station, you pull up just like a gas station, and you get most of the charger eat in five or 10 minutes. That’s certainly the way it’s working here. So spending that money smartly. As always, whenever you talk about government spending, you really got to think about what’s the best way to do it. Started putting in charging infrastructure for delivery vehicles. And trucking makes a lot of tax. And if they could give money to people who play apartment buildings and so forth, they can build chargers, that that’s a good use of money too.

 

ANCHOR

As we’re talking about potential hurdles to a more electric future, building, these vehicles still have some environmental challenges. How do you think the industry overcomes this?

 

CHRIS

Well, you know, there’s a complicated issues. There’s a lot of whenever you have big changes, just a tremendous amounts of fear and misinformation and doubt about it. And frankly, most people don’t really want to change what they’re doing unless they really understand that it’s gonna be better for them. The big one that you hear a lot about, and it’s what our next film is about is batteries. What about the battery? What about cobalt and mining and having white GPU with him harvesting and nickel and all that, but the real facts on batteries is they’re getting a lot cleaner. They’re not using cobalt, you know, it’s switched to lithium phosphate, they’re going to lithium, sodium and things are just not nearly as dark and gloomy. The real issue is how do you ramp up? How do you get these materials and how do you keep them in the recycle train, and they’ve done a great job with lead acid batteries. Traditionally, there are some big exceptions. But I think the environmental worries about electric cars are overplayed.

 

ANCHOR
In your film, Who Killed the Electric Car consumers were listed among the guilty party These alongside car oil companies and the government have car buyers come around overall Do you think?

 

CHRIS
Well, you know, make a filter, you do something like consumers are guilty or something. And we’re trying to make a rhetorical point, just like the only cars people have or ones they can afford to buy. And they’re just Dubai. And I think a lot of people that wanted electric cars have had the opportunity to buy it, or can get them now, when we made the film that first film 20 years ago, you couldn’t even buy an electric vehicle. So we’re arguing why this is not a choice on the table. And now that here we are, it’s really a choice more and more people and then people have a chance to buy it or see the neighbor as one and say that just works for them or it doesn’t.

 

ANCHOR
And as people have had an opportunity to buy them recently, we saw early adopters fuel and early Evie rush setting new sales records, the industry but the rate of evey sales since decreased. How do you believe the industry will adapt to this problem and appeal to a new consumer base?

 

CHRIS
Yeah, I think yeah, there’s like a little trick like that. But if you look at the way that people gave up on horses slowly, I think gas cars overtook horses in 1924, or something. And there’s like real little ripples and just really can’t catch up or the price isn’t right. There’s, there’s always going to be pull backs in growth. But I think just the value proposition of not having to buy gasoline, having all your energy made in the US, which is what electricity is, and also the kind of superior performance. In most cases, electric vehicles with range being an issue in really cold climates are some exceptions, but most people will just find a better driving experience. And that’s that’s going to keep this thing growing.

 

ANCHOR
Looking ahead at the future of EVs to 2024, do you see partisanship playing a role here? Are there stakes for electric vehicles in the upcoming election?

 

CHRIS
Yeah, I don’t know why electric vehicles would be a partisan issue. It certainly is because it’s seen as part of some kind of giveaway or subsidy or something. The government’s prioritizing it, because it does create co2, there’s less toxic signal in the environment when you’re doing electric vehicles over fossil fuel vehicles. But yeah, there’s been subsidies for oil and all kinds of things. So I think the politics of it to partisanship have to be with where people want subsidy money to be spent, and people that are used to getting their oil subsidy money, they want to keep gutting it. And people don’t are looking for electric vehicles and electrify transportation to move up. They weren’t there. So that’s maybe the partisanship because I don’t think the fundamentals of mobility need to be part of them.

 

ANCHOR
Do you have any thoughts on Tesla’s upcoming cybertruck? Is this something you could see being a potential game changer for the AV industry?

 

CHRIS
I don’t know what to make of that vehicle. It’s it’s a complicated vehicle. Yeah, I know that Elon loves it. And there’s a lot of excitement about it from some people. But I think I’m more of a classic pickup truck guy who and f150 rivian. guy would be more, more exciting for me. But Tesla keeps showing that there’s just something we didn’t expect and something that we might actually find. And that was sort of the Steve Jobs approach to developing technology. So maybe the cybertruck is this huge market that we’ll find out about? Certainly Tesla is making a lot of big moves, and a lot of other areas of cyber truck will be that too.

 

ANCHOR
Now, before we let you go, you mentioned earlier you are working on a film about Evie batteries and the minerals that go into them. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? And what can we expect from that film?

 

CHRIS

Well, we made Who Killed the Electric car because they repossessed my electric car from 2000. And we weren’t allowed to keep the cars and we thought well, what what’s what’s going on why the car company is so against electric vehicles. And obviously that’s changed. All car companies are now really all in on it. When we made the second film about the rise of Tesla and GM shift in strategy and Nissan, that was more like okay, the electric cars is coming back. Now we’re in a position where millions of these cars are being made. So what are the repercussions? And a lot of friends are like, Oh, we just trading fossil fuels for battery problems, heavy metal pollution for something else. So we wanted to dive into that. What’s the mobility revolution from skateboards all the way to aeroplanes, looks like when you when you start using electricity instead of oil.

 

ANCHOR

Well, I’ll definitely be excited to catch that film when you guys wrap up on it. Thank you again so much for for joining us here today. It was a pleasure talking to you