Activists hope to spark interest in electric cars

Activists hope to spark interest in electric cars

AJCommittee to host alternative energy ‘geek’

Chelsea Sexton, from Who Killed the Electric Car.
Chelsea Sexton, from Who Killed the Electric Car.

Chelsea Sexton calls herself “just a geek” who has spent much of the past decade as a special sort of car salesperson. She is one of the nation’s leading advocates of the all-electric car, and she has found the Jewish community to be especially helpful in spreading that message.

“Of all the faith groups, the Jewish groups were the first and most vocally supportive of this technology. Each group has a different reason why dependency on oil is a bad thing, but everyone wants to get off it,” she told NJ Jewish News in a Dec. 31 telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles.

Allyson Gall, New Jersey Area director of the American Jewish Committee, says Jews have multiple reasons for supporting alternative energy.

“Getting us on electric cars gets us off oil,” she said. “Every time you fill up with gas you can look in the mirror at the person who is paying for both sides of war.”

With that in mind, Gall’s organization has invited Sexton to speak twice in New Jersey next week — at Bnai Keshet in Montclair on Wednesday, Jan. 12, and at the Princeton Public Library the folllowing day.

Sexton is a marketing expert who worked at General Motors on its aborted EV1 electric vehicle program. She was interviewed in the first of two documentary films on the subject, the 2006 Who Killed the Electric Car? She is a consulting producer on its soon-to-be-released sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car.

She has asked local owners of electric cars to show off their vehicles at both NJ events, where she plans to show excerpts of both films.

Sexton said she finds growing optimism for the electric car as she continues criss-crossing the United States, meeting with consumer advocates, community groups, and government officials.

“They have become more receptive in recent years, and it is becoming more of a bipartisan issue than it was originally. It originally was seen as this crunchy enviro-California thing,” she said.

After the attacks on 9/11, warnings about the environment and global warming from the Left combined with growing concerns on both sides of the aisle over dependence on Mideast oil.

“For both sides there is a message of self-sufficiency,” she said. “You can’t make gasoline on your roof but you can put solar panels on your house. Plugging in at home and using relatively stable-priced electricity is always cheaper than going to a gas station and completely absolves you from the politics of what’s happening with oil.”

When she meets with elected officials, Sexton said, she presents what she calls a “portfolio of priorities” that focuses on “less research and more deployment. We have to prioritize on getting cars on the road,” she insisted.

To do so, she urges that governmental entities at all levels commit to purchasing fleets of electric vehicles and providing financial incentives to consumers. Her cause may be gradually softening some of its most powerful opponents.

“The oil companies are still working against electric vehicles, but a few of them have started to see them as inevitable and are looking to put up charging stations at gas stations, sort of ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’” she said.

One major factor, she said, was support from the Obama administration. The federal stimulus package included $17 billion for the electric car industry, with a special focus on domestic manufacture of car batteries.

Sexton predicts “it will be decades” before the electric car replaces the internal combustion engine.

“We have to have some perspective. In the 10 years hybrids have been out, they have penetrated 3 percent of the new-car market,” she said. “We think it will happen a bit faster with plug-ins, but until automakers start making them by the millions, people can’t buy them by the millions.”

That notion is pleasing to Gall. “We really need to get off of oil so that we are not funding regimes that fund forces who hate us,” she told NJJN.

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