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.