I first watched a screener of Revenge of the Electric Car back in October when working for BBC Storyville and it has now finally reached UK cinemas. The film is a surprisingly engaging and exciting look into the world of electric vehicle manufacturing- not a subject upon which I would normally be attracted to watching a 90minute feature length documentary!
Following on from director Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary project on the same subject, Who Killed the Electric Car, by briefly re-telling the story of US Car giant General Motors’ attempt to launch its first electric car in the 1990s. The car, known as the EV1, was found to be completely commercially unviable (despite some high-profile fans of the vehicles, such as Danny DeVito) and was the cars were recalled and scrapped by GM just months after release.
Fast-forward to 2008 and the launch of TESLA, a small car company led by the enigmatic Elon Musk. TESLA looks as though it is going to be a huge success- so much so that even GM, and their Vice Chairman Bob Lutz– seem genuinely threatened by the newcomers, provoking GM to begin production of their own electric car. Alongside this, Japanese-car manufacturers Nissan, led by the vision of their Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn, are attempting to launch an electric car for the masses: cheap, reliable and, as the Nissan marketing team see it, revolutionary.
The film follows the stories of these three men and their attempts to produce electric cars that can survive where electric-powered predecessors, such as the EV1, had failed. To add another element to the story, the filmmakers also follow Greg Abbott, a Los Angeles-based mechanic who transforms classic cars into electric vehicles.
All four protagonists face considerable challenges in making their electric cars, especially as the severity of the 2008 recession begins to become clear. GM needs a government-backed bail out to survive the US economic flop, TESLA is brought to its knees when mechanical faults plague their first fleet of roadsters, Greg Abbott’s business faces tragedy, whilst Nissan… strangely seems to continue on unscathed.
This is not so much a documentary about electric cars, but about the people behind them (and the rivalry between them), and this is what makes Revenge of The Electric Car so appealing. The film doesn’t get bogged down in studying technology, or in telling us again that if we don’t change our ways we’ll all be living underwater in 60 years because global warming has melted the ice caps.
The film is snappily edited, and well put together to tell a really interesting story- giving insight into the motor industry, how the electric car is being developed, and how this is set to fundamentally change the way the industry works.
I recommend you give the film a watch- though I’m not sure how it would work in the cinema- so maybe wait for a DVD or VOD release… Though if you’re a petrolhead, you’ll love this film, so see it in any format!