Movies

Revenge of the Electric Car

Revenge of the Electric Car featured image

October 14, 2011
By Marc Glassman

Chris Paine, director and co-script w/P.G. Morgan
Feature documentary w/Bob Lutz, Elon Musk, “Gadget” Abbott and Carlos Ghosn

Chris Paine’s new film Revenge of the Electric Car could not have made this eco-worrier any happier. His sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car? is an instant classic. In its own way, it is the best sequel of all time–better than Godfather 2 or The Empire Strikes Back. Why? Because it’s real. Yep, the electric car is back.

Five years ago, I wrote on Classical 96’s website “Who Killed the Electric Car? is an impressive first film by eco-activist Chris Paine, who loved driving his EV, the environmentally friendly car created and eventually destroyed by General Motors. Like any good private eye, or investigative reporter, Paine follows the money as he sorts out what happened to the fleet of electric cars put on the roads of California a decade ago…

“Paine brings in a group of eco-types to denounce what occurred in California…But with SUVs becoming ubiquitous on highways and sports car racing an international passion, who is going to advocate for slower, safer, more environmentally friendly cars?
“Chris Paine, that’s who…Paine attempts to end his doc with some optimism about attempted revivals of the electric car and other eco-activities. But the image that haunts the film is those corpses, the hulks of electric cars rusting in the California sun.”

That was then; this is now. The crash of 2008 has happened and the end of the reign of George W. Bush. Pax Americana is passé and the Euro is toast. The Arab Spring is entering its seventh month and the West will soon be departing Afghanistan and Iraq.

All of a sudden, gas and oil consumption is problematic. Not to a few crazy “greenies” but, increasingly, to the mainstream in the US and Canada and Europe.

In his new doc, Paine reminds us of those earth-shattering events, including the US bailout of General Motors, the banks and other mega-corporations. Suddenly, the electric car has become a potential saviour of the automotive industry, not its sworn enemy. And Paine has come in from the cold: the corporations that refused to deal with during the muckraking initial doc are inviting him to shoot footage of their “green revolution.”

For Revenge of the Electric Car, Paine and his camera get to roam freely at, of all places, GM, which under the maverick leadership of formerly right-wing Bob Lutz decides to create the Volt, a newer and far better “green” car than their old EV. Not to be outdone, Carlos Ghosn at Nissan starts to work on the LEAF, another electric car, built for speed, efficiency and affordability.

Paine finds humour in the abrupt reversals of formerly conservative conglomerates and also sees the pretention in hot young dot.com billionaire Elon Musk’s new Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors and the romanticism in “Gadget” Abbott’s attempts to properly finance his DIY company in the hope that he can turn silver Porsches into something environmental but fun to drive on the road.

All is not smooth driving for these firms. Each suffers technical and financial problems. Lutz retires and Abbott almost goes bankrupt. But in the end, Paine’s doc suggests that things are going to work out fine.

Last night, I took a taxi home and talked to my driver about Paine’s new doc. The taxi driver had heard of the Volt; we both speculated about a future where our children will be able to drive non-polluting cars.

Looks like the “electric car” is already getting its revenge on screen. Now, if we could only drive them…

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