Dude, Wheres My Electric Car!?!

Can one activist fight off Detroit, Japan, Big Oil and the Bush administration to keep EVs alive?

"That just goes to show you that people with an asshole can say all kinds of things," Korthof said.

First, if electric car owners had solar panels on their homes as Korthof does, power plants might become obsolete. But even those drivers connected to the grid would most likely drive by day and recharge the cars overnight, during non-peak hours when the power companies actually want us using more electricity, to even out the loads.

Besides, as intensive state and federal investigations have shown, the problem from the recent energy crisis was not a lack of power plants; it was power companies systematically shutting plants to illegally manipulate the energy market for the benefit of a few rich fucks.

I steer Korthof into another rant. "So, Doug, what about the hydrogen fuel-cell technology the Bush administration wants to explore for the next 20 years?"

Korthof explains that so much hydrogen fuel would be needed for fuel cells that cars would have to use liquid nitrogen, which would ultimately cost more than electricity. Experts currently put the cost of a fuel-cell car at $1 million —way more than even a Hummer! And even if you accept the arguments of electric-car naysayers, making existing electric technology better would be easier and cheaper than creating a whole new hydrogen-based system.

"To say they'll have hydrogen-cell cars in 20 years, it's like, "Yeah, far out, man,'" says Korthof, making a peace sign with the hand that's not on the wheel.

He does allow that someone will certainly make a lot of money off the technology. "I know what they'll do with all that money. It's all bullshit."

"I think we turn in right here," Korthof says before pulling into a driveway that takes us to the parking lot of the Seal Beach Pier. I can't recall ever having been here before, and if I have, I certainly didn't notice the row of electric-car rechargers.

After pulling alongside one, Korthof gets out, grabs a nozzle, starts to put it in the slot near the front of his EV1's hood—and then stops. It won't fit. Shaking his head, he says, "Here's another way they've sabotaged it."

Back inside his car, he pulls out a small plastic adapter. In all, he has come across five different-sized nozzles at free recharging stations, which means drivers have to carry a tool box of attachments to get juice from different chargers. Could you imagine drivers of gas cars putting up with this?

"There's no reason you shouldn't be able to plug the car into a standard household electrical outlet," he says. "The infrastructure is already there. We wouldn't need these recharging stations."

* * *

Looking back, Korthof says he should have known something was amiss when he bought this EV1. He pretended to be interested in the gas-guzzlers on the lot at Saturn of Cerritos when the salesman took him into the showroom. Spotting an electric car in the corner, he asked about it.

The salesman insisted that he wouldn't want one, that those who own them hate them, that it would take $600 per month just to keep the car running. Korthof responded by taking out his checkbook and offering to buy it on the spot. That so flustered the salesman that he called over a "specialist" to handle the transaction. The specialist gave Korthof the same bad-electric-car rap. Again, he whipped out his checkbook.

Well, so many drivers apparently didn't want electric cars that there was a waiting list that meant Korthof would not take delivery of his EV1 for six weeks. Can you name another car that auto dealers don't want to take money for, don't let you drive off the lot and then make you wait six weeks for? Talk about a cooling-off period!

* * *

If you're looking for evidence of a conspiracy, look here. In the early 1990s, at about the time the auto industry was poised to spend billions to develop batteries that would meet the CARB mandate, the state plunged into recession. Factories shut down and anti-regulation fever swept California. Heck, even our skies were getting clearer, although—then and now—we still have the worst smog in the U.S. A new strategy emerged among automakers: kill the ZEV mandate. First, automakers offered to build cleaner-burning, gas-powered cars ahead of state requirements. Then, they secretly funded scores of lobbying groups with names like Californians Against Hidden Taxes to create the impression that average folks were anti-electric. A weird little chapter from the period includes the industry's recruitment of firefighters. According to Katherine Nguyen's October 2001 story in the Los Angeles New Times, the firefighters would testify before CARB that extinguishing burning EV or fuel-cell cars would be dangerous.

Stan Ovshinski, president of Energy Conversion Devices of Troy, Michigan, the creator of solar-energy cells, the holder of 250 U.S. Patents and Time magazine's "Hero of the Planet" for 1999, told Nguyen, "The people who are saying that battery technology isn't ready are absolutely wrong. It's part of the party line. It's self-perpetuating. It's very sad. You tell a lie big enough and long enough, and people start to believe it. The fact of the matter is volume. That's the only reason batteries are the cost that they are."

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