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The electric car premiers

In the opening scene of the new documentary film "The Electric Road Trip," a couple is discussing an all electric vehicle with a car dealer who explains that it doesn't have a gas tank, and therefore, strictly speaking, doesn't get a particular gas mileage.

Novia Campbell asks aloud, "Why would anybody buy this car?"

Her husband, Jonathon Slade, asks if it comes in black.

"The Electric Road Trip" is a chronicle of Slade and Campbell's 2012 trip across Maryland in their Nissan Leaf electric car, when they traversed the state from Oakland near the West Virginia line, all the way to Ocean City. Slade, a former Maryland Public Television producer and professor of cinema at McDaniel College, shot the hour-long documentary himself using lightweight GoPro digital cameras.

The film will air on Maryland Public Television April 23, but Carroll residents will get a sneak peak at an advanced screening the Carroll County Arts Center in Westminster April 9. Tickets for the advanced screening are $5 and available on a first-come, first-served basis through the Carroll County Public Library at library.carr.org/earthday/.

Campbell and Slade's Nissan Leaf will be on display before the show along with other electric vehicles and the couple will be available for questions and answers after the film.

"I can tell you that 'The Electric Road Trip' is a pretty unique film," said Mike English, an executive producer at Maryland Public Television that helped produce the film. "It's driven by Jon's passion, really, for electric cars and also for the promise they hold."

Slade had always been fascinated by electric vehicles, and the Nissan Leaf is his version of purchasing a real life Hot Wheels car.

"I've been interested in electric cars since I was 7 years old," Slade said. "I remember being at my uncle's house playing with these battery powered, radio controlled cars and thinking, 'If you just had a battery big enough.'"

After finally having the opportunity to purchase a 2012 Nissan Leaf, both Campbell and Slade were surprised to find it also handled like a Hot Wheels car.

"You can smoke anything at a traffic light for a few seconds," Slade said. "Besides being economically a good deal, it's a fun car to drive."

The idea for the documentary was born when the couple realized a planned vacation to Ireland would be too expensive and that they had a fun and interesting car they could take for an extended drive.

"Novia and I, we both enjoy taking road trips," Slade said. "Why not combine the fact that it is less expensive to stay in Maryland for summer vacation with the fact that we like to road trip and see how far we can push this electric car?'"

Their plan, according to Slade, was to drive the vehicle across the state using only what charging stations or outlets were already available, no cheating by bringing a generator. They were able to locate some of the roughly 300 free charging stations located throughout the state using a mobile app, but most of these are concentrated in urban areas, not in the mountains or along the eastern shore.

"As we drove in these outer areas, we realized that people out there are really not in tune with electric vehicles, not the way it is in the city," Campbell said. "In Baltimore, you go to a parking garage and you see the blue and yellow lights, you know it's a charging station, but in that area, they don't even exist at peoples homes."

Their car can make about 70 miles to a charge, depending on terrain and cargo, effects Slade said are present in gasoline power cars as well but not as noticeable because finding a gas station is usually so convenient: West of Hagerstown, there are no charging stations to speak of.

"The electric car is here," Slade said. "The only problem any more is the charging stations."

Although the electric vehicle was a novelty for many people they encountered on their trip, Slade said everyone they encountered was intrigued and helpful. One bed and breakfast even ran an extension cord outside for the them charge up.

A principle point of fascination amongst people the couple met on the road was the cost of operating the vehicle: Campbell said she puts as much money in gasoline in their other vehicle - a Subaru Outback - each day as the electric car adds to their utility bill per month for home charging.

"Our commutes are about the same," she said. "He spends $58 per month, and I spend $58 per week to go to work."

In the documentary, Slade drives the vehicle from the couple's home in Lineboro down to Owings Mills, to Westminster and then back home, all on a single charge.

Although the film was not conceived as a form of activism, Slade said he does hope that it will help spread the word that electric vehicles are viable options for real people and encourage developers and governments to invest in charging infrastructure.

"Bottom line, the electric car is no longer a thing of the future. It is here. It works. It will save you money. And it is environmentally beneficial," he said. "There are about 10,000 gasoline pumps across the state of Maryland, but only 300 public ... charging stations. I'm convinced that if we had 10,000 charging stations, the combustion engine would be virtually extinct."

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