By Caitlyn Collins | March 6, 2012
Director: Chris Paine
Writers: Chris Paine, P.G. Morgan
Narrator: Tim Robbins
Starring: Danny DeVito, Jon Favreau, Anthony Kiedis, Stephen Colbert, Bob Lutz, Carlos Ghosn, Elon Musk, Reverend Gadget
I’m generally a fan of underdog stories where the “little guy” comes out on top. And while I can’t say that the electric car has truly surpassed gasoline and oil-fueled engines, it is definitely fighting its way to the top as documented in Revenge of the Electric Car. Of course I have to admit that my dream car is practically a boat on wheels but that doesn’t mean I’m not also fascinated by the technology behind the electric car. The documentary, directed by Chris Paine, follows the three largest manufacturers of electric cars – General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla – from 2008 to 2011. Paine actually chooses to follow the three heads of these companies in order to show their motivation for starting up (in the case of Tesla) or switching to (GM, Nissan) the manufacture of electric cars.
Bob Lutz is the Vice Chairman of General Motors and the former President of Chrysler and has been instrumental in the rise and fall of mass produced electric vehicles. General Motors produced the EV-1, the first electric vehicle on the market, and a car driven by people such as Danny DeVito. Yet despite protests, EV-1s were pulled from the market and the project was crushed, literally, in 2005.
In 2008, billionaire Elon Musk debuted the first vehicle from Tesla Motors, a completely electric roadster. At the same time, General Motors began work on the Volt and Nissan started production on the Leaf. Just when it looked like electric vehicles might have their day the economy crashed, practically taking down the U.S. automotive industry. General Motors eventually filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and received a $30 billion loan from the U.S. government. Musk sank a vast part of his wealth into saving Tesla Motors while asking the Department of Energy for a $456 million loan. Eventually Tesla Motors became a publicly traded company in order to gain capital.
Revenge of the Electric Car is a story of good old-fashioned American capitalism. While I’m glad that electric cars are becoming more and more prominent in the auto industry, it’s incredible that it didn’t happen until the major manufacturers realized there were major profits to be seen. Paine spends more time focusing on them than on people such as Gadget, a man who has dedicated his life to converting gasoline powered vehicles into purely electric ones. This is the very type of person that has been dedicated to and has espoused the virtues of electric cars all along, slowly sparking changes in the automotive industry.
The documentary is pretty straightforward in its style, advancing chronologically and peppered with statements and interviews, many from people considered to be in-the-know: Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com, Dan Neil, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and David Cole, an industry analyst. Others, like Anthony Kiedis and Jon Favreau, seem to serve no real purpose other than to draw star power to the work.
Revenge of the Electric Car is both interesting and informative. As a documentary, its focus is more on the major production of electric cars than on environmentalism or grassroots efforts, which are covered in passing. No matter how you look at it, it’s definitely fascinating to see the evolution from early industry opposition to electric cars to their eventual promotion. New Video just released Revenge of the Electric Car on DVD.