SEMA Sitdown: 5 minutes with Ed Begley Jr.

As one of the most recognized environmental advocates around, Ed Begley Jr. can be a lightning rod for criticism and is often a target for jokes on late-night television. Sometimes his enthusiasm comes off as preaching; but he is true to the cause, living an environmentally-focused lifestyle that includes using solar power for his house. As for transportation, Begley has owned numerous electric vehicles, including a converted VW Rabbit, a GM EV1 and a Toyota RAV4. He also owns a Toyota Prius for long trips. AutoblogGreen caught up with Begley at the SEMA Show where he was promoting the introduction of the Phoenix Motorcars sport-utility truck, an electric vehicle that could go on the market next year. Begley has a brisk yet pleasant manner. He speaks with confidence and knowledge about products that can harm or help the environment. During the Phoenix press conference, he stressed the economic advantages of owning an electric vehicle or hybrid over the environmental impact of importing oil from the Middle East. My first question posed the possibility that Hollywood personalities can help promote green awareness or they can be perceived as being elitist. Begley took the conversation from there and rarely let up.

Begley: There is that risk. We don't want to appear elitist or be elitist in any fashion. But if we can provide a vehicle for someone somewhere to get them out of a limo, that's a good thing. Or provide a vehicle for someone on low income and save them money, they'll embrace it, too. You're going to save money in the long run. I've saved so much money with that Prius I bought for $20,500 in August 2000. It has 120,000 miles and all I've paid for are lube and oil and about $500 to $700 for the regular service appointments. I've never had a car so cost effective, ever.

(Read the rest after the jump)
Begley: There are some people who don't have $20,500, so there are other options available to them. But many people are spending much more on cars. So I wouldn't call the Prius elitist, and I wouldn't call any of the electrics I drove before this elitist. I bought an electric car in 1990 for $1,700. It was a used car but I drove it around for years. It was a really good car. I put $2,500 into it. People can buy retrofit cars. There's a form of technology for everybody. Take public transportation. I ride my bike a lot. There's nothing more cost effective than that. It's a good question you ask about elitism. Everybody should pick the low-hanging fruit first, whatever your income bracket. Compact florescent bulbs, energy-saving thermostat, bike riding, public transportation, and then if you have the resources get some of the more expensive solar technology or hybrids or electric cars. But you can do only what you can afford and no one is suggesting otherwise.

AutoblogGreen: I see a correlation from the '80s with the diesel engines. There is still a stigma left over that they're smelly and sooty. Is there a stigma left over from the '90s with electric vehicles that they were just bad vehicles? That they were cramped and drivers were concerned about reserve capacity, getting stuck somewhere without a charge.

Begley: That's why the hybrid took off because people saw they could go 400 or 500 miles on one tank. That's as good as you're going to get with a fillup.

AutoblogGreen: And they get home.

Begley: Exactly. They weren't afraid of running out. There was a lot of disinformation about the car. I'm 6-4 and I was comfortable in the EV1. I got around lots of places in LA. It had a 135-mile range. Living within the parameters of the car, I was fine. As I said, the basic thing with electric vehicles is that you don't need a sledgehammer to put in a carpet tack.

AutoblogGreen: Last question. There is a strong push for hydrogen...

Begley: I'm all for hydrogen if you can demonstrate it's made from clean technology. If you're using dirty coal, and I'm not a fan of nuclear, then I'm not on board. But certainly hydrogen is something in the future. We all agree that the roof is leaking and we have to design a new roof. In the meantime you need someone with a can of tar and a ladder. That's what these vehicles are; something you can use today to stem this flow of Middle East oil that's a big problem for us, and to stop the pollution that's a problem in some cities.


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