Tonight I joined other electric car enthusiasts at the opening of the newly released movie, “Revenge of the Electric Car.” Written and directed by Chris Paine, this feature is the sequel to his earlier film, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”(2006), and it opened in major metropolitan areas this weekend, including the Hollywood Theater here in Portland Oregon. The director himself was present to introduce his new movie and talk with the audience after the showing. Why were we so lucky to have the film’s creator in Portland when larger markets were also showing the film? Paine tells the audience, “There are so many folks interested in this topic here.” Besides, he has family in the area.
Chris Paine is correct about Portland, of course, and the first showings were all sell-outs. There was a buzz in the air and the opening night event included a display of vehicles coordinated by Drive Oregon, the state’s electric vehicle business association, and the Oregon Electric Vehicle Assoc. (OEVA). This film spotlighted the birth of a new generation of electric cars including the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster and these cars were on display outside the theater for all to see.
Director Paine said this movie is about momentum.
Paine stated, “The last one was about being outside the system. This time, it’s about being inside the system and how hard it is to change things from within.” Indeed, Revenge of the Electric Car offers a glimpse of the brutal competitiveness of the mass produced car industry and features a look inside the minds of four EV innovators as they struggle to survive during a horrendous global recession.
Revenge tells the story of a disruptive technology on the brink of a major industrial paradigm shift, but in my opinion, this film is really more about people than it is about technology.
For three years (2007-2010) the filmmaker followed four champions of electric vehicles and revealed their personal stories and ordeals. Their stories are interwoven and the film is superbly narrated by actor Tim Robbins who is assisted by a greek chorus of industry journalists who comment on the action and provide some of the tension. The four EV entrepreneurs spotlighted are:
- Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan Alliance,
- Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect and CEO of Tesla Motors,
- Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of General Motors (now retired), and
- Greg “Gadget” Abbott, a car mechanic who converts gas-run cars to battery power.
Of the four protagonists, my favorite character is not the glam wunderkind, Elon Musk, or the quintessential business visionary, Carlos Ghosn; it is the old-school car manufacturer Bob Lutz. The guy is classic Motor City. He is responsible for gas-guzzling SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Hummer, and he watched GM market share deteriorate as gasoline prices reached $4 a gallon at the pump and Toyota surpassed GM with sales of their Prius hybrid.
Bob Lutz admitted he didn’t see a business case for EVs in the past, but now sees electrification of the automobile as a foregone conclusion. Due to Lutz’s born-again enthusiasm for plug-in vehicles, director Paine was able to get inside GM to document its development of the Chevy Volt with Lutz acting as congenial host and escort. My laugh-out-loud moment in the movie was when Lutz referred to himself as an “environmentalist.”
Another larger-than-life character is Elon Musk, who co-created PayPal then sold it before starting Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and pioneering his own private space-travel company called SpaceX. At one point, he dumped millions of his own money into Tesla as he struggled to learn the difficulties of trying to mass produce a new kind of car.
Businessman Carlos Ghosn shared his vision of a mass produced, mass marketed electric car – the Nissan LEAF. While Gadget Abbott made all car lovers drool at the idea of electrifying a classic American sports car like the Corvette Stingray.
Revenge lacks the ultimate outrage produced by Chris Paine’s first movie, but then it didn’t need to as these are different times. This film ends on a decidedly more optimistic note as we learn that the Chevy Volt wins car of the year, the Nissan LEAF wins European car of the year, and Tesla Motors gets the government loan they desperately needed to survive. Even Paine’s buddy, Gadget, who struggles throughout the film, finally finds a new shop to continue his unique car conversions.
In the end, this film portends the beginning of a gas-free future and this is good news, or bad, depending on the viewer’s point of view. That day can’t come soon enough for me and for many of the people in that theater tonight. We can hardly wait for what comes next.
Documentaries are not for everyone. I think this movie will certainly stimulate anyone interested in technology, business, transportation and eco-entrepreneurs, but it may not appeal to a mass audience.
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
This film is not rated.
The DVD will be released on January 24, 2012.