Film Review: Revenge of the Electric Car

If you enjoyed Who Killed the Electric Car?, you'll love this new documentary

2 min read

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of the new documentary Revenge of the Electric Car, a follow-up to Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? The showing took place at the Plug In 2011 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, to the delight of several hundred electric-car enthusiasts in the audience.

Whereas the story told in Who Killed the Electric Car? makes you want to cry, the new film, written by Paine and P. G. Morgan, moves you to laugh—at GM’s sudden fondness for electric vehicles (or at least its plug-in hybrid, the Volt), at the shift in sentiment generally about electric cars (which thanks to the Tesla Roadster are now seen as sexy), but most of all at the cast of characters who are slowly but surely helping to electrify automobile transportation. The list includes Bob Lutz (of GM), Elon Musk (of Tesla Motors), Carlos Ghosn (of Nissan and Renault), and Greg “Gadget” Abbott (who converts gasoline cars to electric drive).

Unless you’re very close to the budding electric-car industry, you’ll likely learn a great deal about the various twists and turns that have befallen GM, Tesla, and Nissan as they strive to produce practical electric—or at least partially electric—cars. What’s absolutely astonishing, though, are the inside peeks at these companies and their leaders that Paine’s team was able to get on camera. Lutz, Musk, and to a lesser extent Ghosn are captured sharing what are seemingly their most candid thoughts about cars, the press, the stress of their jobs, even their family lives. And those often-humorous snippets rapidly cut these larger-than-life figures down to very human sizes.

Geeks might complain that the film doesn’t delve into the technological advances that have taken place since the “death” of the EV1 in 1999. Hard-core engineers like Alan Cocconi (who discusses battery technology in Who Killed the Electric Car?) never appear. The focus here is definitely on business and personality, not technology. But that’s okay. And it’s definitely entertaining. So by all means, go see Revenge of the Electric Car after its general release this fall.


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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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