The Birth of My Activism
by joelado, Thu Nov 24, 2011 at 10:56:30 PM EST
I have always been an electric vehicle and alternative fuel enthusiast, following every change in the industry, researching its history, looking for kinks in the armor of the market for a way to get these vehicles into people’s hands. Then one day, it seemed to come true. General Motor’s announced in 1996 it was to produce an electric car to be called the EV1. This following its successful entry into the first World Solar Challenge in 1987 and the positive hoopla raised by the press for GM’s presentation of its future electric car, a prototype called the Impact, at the 1990 LA Auto Show.
I set aside money for an EV1, making myself ready to purchase the vehicle as soon as it would become available in my home state. I waited for the new cleaner world being ushered in by the best of GM’s engineers. Then GM never sold the vehicles but only leased them. They also limited the EV1s distribution to California and Arizona. I convinced myself to calm down by telling myself not to worry. “The era of the electric car is here, I only have to wait. It will be in Virginia soon enough.” That day never came for the EV1. The car was never released outside of California, and Arizona. Rather than selling the vehicles across the country and making it a viable product, they opted to gather up all of the leased EV1s and crush them.
My original fear was that GM was planning a complete erasure of the EV1 such as Chrysler did with its turbine vehicles and the Detroit big three had tried to do with the Tucker. Nothing that GM said about the demand for the vehicle was true. I belonged and still belong to an organization that had thousands upon thousands of electric vehicle enthusiast in it whose members wanted electric cars so much so that they converted regular cars to run on electricity. And we were getting good at it. I owned one of those conversions and it worked very well. If you can imagine people taking the time to teardown a vehicle and then spend all the time putting it back together just so that it would run on electricity, just imagine how many people would want an electric car if all they had to do was just go into a dealer and buy one.
I found my passions about innovation, technology transfer and fair and free markets coming to the forefront of my emotions. I became outraged. So I did the only thing I could do at the time. I went looking for groups of people that were feeling the way I did. And found them.
GM didn’t count on the few people that got their hands on the EV1 to absolutely fall in love with their vehicles. They didn’t count on 40% of EV1 leasers putting up solar panels on the roofs of their homes to power their vehicles, 40% and growing. They didn’t count on the EV1 leasers joining up with those groups of enthusiasts building their own vehicles and forming a chapter of the Electric Auto Association and calling it the EV1 club. When GM started taking back the vehicles at the end of their leases, this users group realized that they were given leases that had no residual purchase price at the end of the lease. In a typical lease you lease the car for a period of time and then are allowed to purchase the vehicle at a predetermined price. The EV1 leases didn’t have this feature. However, the EV1 leasers wanted to own their vehicles at the end of their leases. That they didn’t have the option to buy made them angry.
They began to wonder what was happening to their vehicles. They were promised that the vehicles were being recycled and not crushed, but Chris Paine, one of the EV1 Club members rented a helicopter and went over the GM proving ground and brought back pictures of the EV1s that had been crushed. The picture at the top of this piece is one of those pictures. The images of their beloved electric vehicles crushed energized the group and it energized me as well, even though I was on the other side of the country only able to observe what was going on through the Internet. They converted their group from the EV1 Club and widened the group to include leasers of the Honda+, Toyota RAV4 EV, Nissan Altra electric car, and other manufactured electric vehicles whose electric cars were meeting the same fate. They formed DontCrush.com, an organization dedicated to stopping electric vehicles from being destroyed.
I followed all of the activity that I could find with zeal. I wanted to know every detail of what was happening. Finally, through a website that a former leaseholder of a Honda+ set up to help coordinate the communications of the group’s activities I became wired in to what was happening. The group discovered that there were some EV1s at a GM facility in Burbank, California. Once there the group realized that this was a staging area for transferring the vehicles to the Arizona facility where the vehicles were being crushed. They decided that the story of the electric vehicles that were available in California and Arizona during the Zero Emissions Mandate was a story that the Nation should hear about. It should not go quietly, erased from history as if it never happened. They decided to stand and call attention to this tragedy by holding vigil at the facility in Burbank until GM released these last 70 vehicles to the public.
I joined the EV1 vigil, if not physically, in spirit and on the Internet just like most of you are doing with Occupy Wall Street. GM’s horrible decision to crush the EV1, Hondas misguided choice to shred all of its Honda EV+s, Toyota’s decision to disappear nearly all its RAV4 EVs, and the actions of other major automakers to destroy their EV fleets, gave birth to my activism and my voice. On the 11th day of the vigil to save the EV1s in Burbank I found my voice and I began with a simple plea to GM not to erase the EV1 from history.
That small movement, that began with the few people who had a chance to experience a production electric vehicle, first forming a club, then becoming radicalized through having their vehicles taken away and crushed, ultimately went on to win. Dontcrush.com became Plug-In America, an advocacy group that pushes for assistance in bringing electric cars to market. Plug-In America and many of the people that I admired from afar for protesting and some even being arrested such as Colette Divine and Alexandra Paul (pictured above) were featured in an award winning film by Chris Paine titled, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that chronicled all of the events surrounding the crushing of electric vehicles. I went on to become a board member of the Electric Auto Association, the parent organization to which the EV1 Club belonged. I also won because I was able to lease a Chevy Volt, a GM car that is an EV for the first 40 or so miles and then is backed up by a gasoline engine. Don’t worry the lease has a residual sales value at the end, so I will be buying this car that I totally love.
We all have won because the efforts of the Electric Auto Association, Plug-In America, Tesla and the movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” put the auto industry on its heals. To undo the horrible publicity and the scorn of a public that knew what they had done, they have all reversed course. There are some 15 or so plug-in electric vehicle models set to enter the marketplace in the next few years with the Tesla Roadster, the Smart ED, the GM Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf already here and being delivered to the long waiting lists that formed soon after their announcements.
We all win again because people everywhere can do what I have done to make my Volt super clean. I purchased through my utility 100% green power. The electricity to my house and my car come from wind, solar and green biomass. There are programs like this all over the country from virtually every utility. A wind charged electric vehicle is truly a zero emissions vehicle, and anyone can do this.
What I am ultimately saying is, so you can’t be there in person, just like I couldn’t be in California during the vigil. It’s OK. But, today isn’t like being around 20 years ago. We live in an electronic age. If you can’t be there in person then be there on the Internet. Give birth to your inner activist just like I did, by being an Internet activist. You can at least fight trolls on the Occupy facebook pages.
Thank you for listening.