Still catching up with all that happened at the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention EVCCON 2011.

One of the “featured” speakers of the event was Chris Paine. I often ask people how they got started in electric vehicles as kind of a warm up question. The most common answer is “I saw this documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car, and it made me really angry.”

This answer comes up SO often, it is kind of a mantra among the people converting cars to electric drive. The documentary, and the first real availability of LiFePo4 cells from China, occurred almost on the same day. So the two are kind of inextricably linked. The enabling technology and the motivating force. I find this fascinating.

So we actually paid to have Chris Paine come address our first “convention” of electric car conversion enthusiasts.

The setting was supposed to be at my house. We were going to have kind of a private “car show” hood popper on the front lawn of the adjoining Southeast Missouri University River Campus School of Visual and Performing Arts. This is a very scenic setting literally right ON the banks of the Mississippi River, almost under the new suspension bridge which is very nicely lit at night. Jerrry Ford’s band, a kind of 40’s Big Band group of about 13 musicians, was to play and the local Port of Cape Girardeau was to cater the event.

It was thoroughly rained out.

So we moved the band and the food to the hangar where we were having sessions, and served dinner while Jerry Ford did his best to play Basil Poulidoris, along with the usual 1940’s hits. The music was FANTASTIC and the food very good.

Mr. Paine tried desperately to devine the party line and get some guidance on how to tune to the audience. Instead, I kind of described who was here, why they were here, and what they hoped to do hear and left it to hime what to talk about and what to show by way of documentaries. He did ask which I thought they would rather see, “Charged” or “Revenge of the Electric Car” and I mentioned that “Revenge” would undoubtedly be the overwhelming choice.

Revenge actually has gone into distribution, meaning the control of the rights and so forth has passed to another entity and the film is scheduled to open in theaters in late NOvember, actually in St. Louis it will open on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – a curious time to debut a film in theaters.

In any event, if a crowd shows up in theaters, this will cause some press attention, DVD sales etc and it is important that people turn out for the theatre release.

In any event, after dinner Paine addressed the group with a kind of alphabet presentation of various curious elements of the electric car universe and I would describe the audience as rapt. Kind of a special sermon to the choir in this case, he was very well received.

After some texting back and forth with his distribution manager, he decided to go ahead and screen “Revenge of the Electric Car.” This is where rain plays a role. We were able to completely darken the hangar and had a nine foot rear projection system on hand for the sessions. The result was a sparkling clear presentation of the documentary.

The documentary was NOT what I expected. The first documentary was a little simplistic for my tastes with very bad guys and very good guys and presented in an almost fairy tale like simplicity built around that. But it WAS motivating and I WAS angry at the end so it was enormously effective.

Somehow I expected Revenge to reverse this into a big hooray for GM and Nissan who now of course have products.

Instead, what we saw was a much more mature and developed view of four players in the EV space, with four different visions of an electric car future. It was a parallel comparison in many ways bizarrely presented with a Gregorian chant background and MUCH higher production values and camera work than Who Killed the Electric Car.

The four players were Bob Lutz with General Motors and the Volt, Carlos Ghosn with Nissan Motor Company, Elon Musk with Tesla Motors, and Greg “Gadget” Abbott of Left Coast Electric Conversions – a small conversion shop in California, ironically specializing in 1957 Porsche Speedster Replicas.

The documentary cycled between profiles of these players quite artfully, bringing out a number of interesting and indeed crucial points in the development of an electric car that could be adopted by the market. Bob Lutz came across as a big booming guy with a vision and a very corporate way of presenting his product. Carlos Ghosn was an almost steely autocratic leader betting his company’s fortune on electric cars surrounded by people who had only one answer for his every question – YES.

Elon Musk actually didn’t fair too well in the documentary I thought, but I rather lionize this guy as he is very much out of the Internet school and Silicon Valley. He came across as very devoted to the cause, but somehow struggling to master the exigencies of automobile production and with an uncertain future.

OF course, the surprise was the essentially equal treatment of Greg Abbott – identified only as Gadget in the film. Gadget operated a small conversion business out of a warehouse in Los Angeles. He specializes in reproduction Porsche’s, most notably 1957 Porsche Speedsers, converted of course to electric drive. I had two we had done on hand at the show, and Carey Hines of Special Editions Inc. had a roller on display in the vendor area, so this hit home pretty well.

Unbeknownst to Paine, there was a critical part of the documentary where they actually showed footage of Gadget’s warehouse – TOTALLY destroyed by fire. His workshop, all the cars, tools, and equipment just totally wiped out. The documentary vaguely asserted that the cause had been traced to ARSON.

Our group let out a totally collective SIGH at the sight right on cue. On the screen we could clearly see that most of the cars were burned, but largely intact with warehouse debris kind of toppled all over them. But a single car was burnt TO THE GROUND. The blackened debris you usually see at a natural fire, was not only not present, but the entire scene was in the by now familiar whitewash white/grey of an INTENSE battery fire. And incredibly, they showed Gadget pawing through the debris and holding the remnants of his BATTERY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND CHARGER up for all to see.

I quickly surveyed the room and the dawning realization was so total, I do not believe ANYONE in the room missed any part of this. To the point that I never mentioned it at all during the remainder of the EVCCON. There is a saying “when in a hole, stop digging.” The corollary is “when you’ve clearly won the battle, put down your sword.” There’s no point really in slaughtering the survivors. This film made this point, entirely accidentally, probably better than I have done in the past year. And I don’t think any single one of our attendees missed it at all.

All that aside from begging the question “Who would bother to burn down a small electric car conversion shop?” For what?

After the screening, Paine noted that he had brought a few copies of CHARGED his other documentary about electric motor cycle racing that he would make available for $20 each. They were “Gone in Sixty Seconds” to borrow another film title and he seemed genuinely surprised at the $400 per minute. He’d only brought 20 copies.

He then asked that we turn out as a “buzz” audience and encourage others to attend the theatre release as this is most important to its’ success. Everyone pretty much agreed to do that. Anne Knoppenberg asked if he would be interested in coming to speak and screen in Amsterdam. It was a comic moment when Chris repeated “Amsterdam?? Ahh..YES to that.”

He also held up his cell phone and announced he had a text from Gadget who regretted his lack of attendance and promised to join us at EVCCON next year.

After the showing, despite the late hour, Paine and a few of the attendees retired to our downtown area to visit The Library, a local bar frequented most notably by young female college students from the University and featuring an able selection of potable spirits.

And a good time was had by all.

I am not a film critic precisely, but I would rate REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR a must see. It presents a more mature and developed view of the difficulties faced by the men of vision who are striving to bring this technology to the masses. It rather left the question open, and so does not provide the satisfying anger of the first documentary. But for my tastes, it was a better film and in many ways more useful, and thought provoking. That a small conversion shop was profiled right along with Tesla was the surprise element we simply did not expect.

I would urge everyone to see this film. I found Chris Paine very intelligent, and most gracious in all respects.

Jack RIckard

18 thoughts on “CHRIS PAINE ADDRESSES EVCCON 2011”

  1. That’s funny, the first time I’ve heard about EV conversions was a Discovery program, made by Gadget.
    It was planned to be a series, but I believe only one episode was made.
    It was a very bad, lead-acid conversion. Pouring motor oil during removing the engine and so on.
    But the car WAS WORKING after conversion.
    So I thought – if such a primitive conversion gives usable car – what a proper, factory-made electric car could do?
    And thus my EV obsession began…

  2. Nice scoop to get the movie at the con. I assume you paid a pretty penny for it : )
    I look forward to seeing it but I am disappointed with the pace by which it is being made available. or lack of same.
    Has your view of Elon changed Jack? did you during the screening think of me and say dammit Dan was right again : )

  3. Coming off the enthusiasm of an EVent I thought this might be a good time to ask this…

    Does anyone have plans to restore some of the of the forerunners to the current EV movement? At some point I suspect it will be interesting to see some restored U.S. Electricars, Sebring Citicars and Solectrias. I know they are mostly old and slow lead cars, but they are part of the slowly growing awareness of EVs, and the early attempts to bring them back to the market.

    Personally, I would like to take an early 20th century EV that is to far gone to restore and make an EV street rod out of an EV!

  4. Listening to Chris at the convention, and talking to him at length later in the bar, was one of the highlights of the week for me.
    All around cool guy, doesnt hurt that he likes my speedboat build 😉
    We have since been in contact and are working out details for a spring showing in Amsterdam. My previous professional outing was running a movie theater and co-founding another, so I could kind of guarantee him his choice of slots.
    For those not already in the know: Amsterdam is likely one of the prettiest, funnest places you could ever visit AND spring is the best time. NOW you ALSO have a ‘professional’ excuse to come next year as I will try to make a mini-convention out of the showing, with a good party after!

    Anne Kloppenborg (not Knoppenberg 😉

    Links to the venues: (65-year-old arthouse theater & BAR run by students) (4-year-old movie theater/Club/Restaurant run by students & I got married here too 🙂

  5. I have been looking at the videos on Youtube of the Tesla event. I thought people here might like to see them if they haven’t already.

    “Elon Musk, CEO and founder of Tesla Motors, introduced Model S”
    (first 2.5 mins from side showing everyone getting out of car)

    “Tesla Model S Beta: Elon Musk lanserer bilen for publikum”
    (alternative angle showing front + full 15 min presentation)

    “Tesla Model S Beta: Elon Musk interview”
    (Musk speech to journalists)

    “Tesla factory tour and Model S beta test ride.mp4”
    (test drive and factory tour with cool red robots around)

  6. palmer md, thanks for posting a link to the documentary on elon musk! great video!

    jack, thanks for the thorough blogpost on this event i had to miss. i’m very anxious to see REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR at 6pm on nov 7, 2011 nearby in annville, PA. subscribe at to be kept up-to-date. planning to have at least one of each car in front of entrance to theatre, press coverage, etc..

    Allen Theatre
    36 East Main
    Street Annville, PA 17003

  7. The car that was burnt to the ground was the speedster. It had a 100 cell lithium polymer battery pack. The car looked fairly burned out, but that is because it was fiberglass. Once you lifted up the glass mat to see the cells below, the plastic was still white, so they were not the source of fire. The fire was started on the roof of the building. I was asleep inside the building when the fire started. There was black smoke inside the building sitting about 7 feet off the ground. The air below was fairly clear, and the room was dark. There was no light from a fire and the air was still. Within minutes the fire came through the roof. It come through directly above a car sitting on a lift. The hot tar poured onto that car and incinerated it. Then the acetylene tanks went next. The roof had three layers of hot mop on it. The liquid pouring through the hole in the roof fueled and inferno that melted the steel beams above. As we stood there at the end of the day watching the firemen mop up, a car passed by and some young men waved, My wife asked who they were. My heart sank… They were the guys who I busted attempting to graffiti my building a few weeks earlier. The firemen said that was probably them, “fire bugs love to check on their handywork”


  8. EVCCON was fantastic.
    Thanks Jack and Brian for doing it all so well.
    I learned quite a lot and met lots of great folks.

    The “downer” of seeing Gadgets building burn was somewhat offset by his enthusiasm once he was building again.

    I’m expecting next year to be bigger and better!

  9. C’mon GoFigure.. I really hope you are trying to be funny. RevGadget might or might not be real, most probably is, but that’s not the point. We (the individuals sympathetic with Jack’s theories) are not at war with BMS supporters. This is not a religion. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, and it should not matter to “us” or “them” what other people say as long as there’s no direct intention to harm the other party, and I don’t think BMS group would be any more childish than non BMS group. The same goes for conspiracy theories. Let’s be adults here.

  10. I can confirm that Gadgets’ write-up above is exactly what Chris Paine told me at the bar, after our screening of the movie. It was a relief for me then and now that it was not a BMS/battery fire, though the real world implication for Gadget are potentially worse…until the terminators come along, i’d rather have technological enemies than living ones.

  11. : “Well, yes there was the fire. We didn’t have any fire insurance on that building as frankly we didn’t think we really needed it, we didn’t have any flammables. Working with electric cars we always took the gas engines out outside so there’s no gas stored there and the shop was kept clean so it wasn’t really an issue. The fire started on the roof by somebody throwing something up there.” From the same interview, “Once you convert the car it can now drive for over half a million miles. And with battery changes you can drive the car for 40-50 years.” I can, especially after viewing the films I linked in the earlier post and pursuing the writings of Bernard London, understand how fleets of cars lasting 50 years could be very threatening to some interests. : “So essential when there was under-production; but in an age of machines and the fixation of nitrogen–positively a crime against society.”

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