It seems like only yesterday (well, 2006) that many of us were feeling full of regret over what could have been as presented in the enthralling documentary by director Chris Paine, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” And now, only a blink of an eye later (2011), we have an amazing answer in Mr. Paine’s follow-up, “Revenge of the Electric Car.” Oh, these are exciting times we live in! Yes, you better believe it, the future is now. We really do have electric cars. We’re at the early stages, but, as the film makes clear, there is no turning back. It’s history in the making and this time we’re getting it right.
Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Neil sets the tone in the opening segment as he ogles various sports cars he spots on a drive through LA. He recalls, wistfully, his love of fast cars. Everything about them was beautiful. “The only problem was the gasoline in the tank.” By measures humorous and contemplative, this documentary navigates through the maze of facts and comes out with a fully charged story centering on four main characters. 2006’s “Who Killed The Electric Car” made the case for how the electric car was scuttled before it had a chance at the dawn of car development. Then, to make matters worse, when GM recently developed a viable electric car, the EV1 (1996 – 2002), it chose to recall it and scrap it. This “sequel” picks up where the original film left off as GM re-enters the electric car market in 2008. But they have forfeited their head start. There are new players and it’s going to be a heated race.
The narrative is quite compelling as it hangs on four men coming from four very different directions. Each is given a title, and appropriate background music, as we enter their world. First, we meet “Mr. Detroit,” who is none other than the macho showman, Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM. This guy is such a legend in the business, having led various auto giants throughout his career, that he already has his own nickname, “Mr. Horsepower.” You would be hard put not to like the man. While he may not exactly believe in global warming, he has come to see the reality of electric cars. This epiphany has been spurred on by “Rocket Man,” Elon Musk, who made is fortune as the creator of PayPal. He now divides his time between Tesla Motors, his own rocket company, SpaceX and a new wife and five children. You almost see his head spin as the story unfolds. We see him struggle with his first entry in the e-car market, the Tesla Roadster, a ultra high-end car that is so expensive to create that Mr. Musk must go back to buyers still waiting on their orders and tell them that the price tag has gone up. We then do a zippy segue to “The Outsider,” Greg “Gadget” Abbott, an e-car converter. He is in the business of retrofitting old cars and turning them into e-car hotrods. He is caught at a difficult time with some unfortunate mishaps but remains optimistic. His portrait gives us a sense of the grassroots enthusiasm for e-cars.
Full of dramatic effect, we’re introduced to “The Warrior.” This is Renault-Nissan’s Chairman and CEO, Carlos Ghosn. The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil likens Mr. Ghosn to Sun Tzu, author of the classic in military strategy, “The Art of War.” The Ghosn strategy, according to Mr. Neil, is taken from this book and is, “Be where your enemy isn’t.” It is a game plan enacted with a vengeance with a commitment of 6 billion dollars behind it. “Every day that our competition delays is a good day for us,” Mr. Ghosn states with gusto at a news conference. His approach is full on: A purely electric car, with a 100 mile range, priced for the widest market. Unlike Tesla Motors, and its Roadster (prior to the Model S) priced at $100,000 and up; and unlike GM’s Chevrolet Volt, which has a backup gasoline engine, the Nissan Leaf is purely electric and priced right at about $30,000. Mr. Ghosn, with such a determined spirit about him, is undeniably in the driver’s seat. At the time this documentary was made, Mr. Lutz and Mr. Musk seem oblivious to him. Even towards the end, when the two men literally bump into each other at a major car show, they seem puzzled by the Nissan Leaf and its significance. It is fascinating to watch.
While it will still take some time before electric cars are the norm, the process has begun. All humanity, the Earth and all polar bears can breathe a sigh of relief. This documentary is essential viewing for all of us as we embark on a whole new way of life. Paced like a dramatic story, with narration by Tim Robbins, and full of insights by various auto industry insiders, you can’t help but get caught up in the narrative and root for the true hero in all this, the electric car. For more information, visit www.revengeoftheelectriccar.com.