From the director of Who Killed the Electric Car? comes, fittingly enough, a tale of the electric vehicle’s Lazarus-like rebirth. Revenge of the Electric Car follows four companies through the development of their own electric cars – the GM Volt, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Roadster, and a hobbyist’s aftermarket retrofit of a 356 Porsche Speedster. It’s an exclusive all-access pass, with footage from strategy meetings, product unveilings and car shows.
The protagonists of this documentary are the very definition of larger than life. There is the cigar-chomping, gravel-voiced General Motors Vice Chair Bob Lutz, who is staking the company’s fortune on the technology they once tried to ‘kill off’ with the recall of the EV1. Through the film, Lutz brands himself as an ‘environmentalist’, despite being the driving force behind monster cars such as the Hummer and the Cadillac Escalade.
Then there’s Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan in Japan, who earned a reputation as a hatchet-man after joining Nissan and promptly firing 21,000 workers. He has boldly gambled the success of the entire company on the Nissan Leaf: if it succeeds, they believe they can corner the market on mass-produced electric cars, but if the leaf is a failure, it will take the company down with it.
Next is Elon Musk, the soft-spoken, dot-com billionaire playboy best known for founding Paypal, and who at the time of this documentary was trying to reinvent the electric car at Tesla Motors, and reinvent spaceflight at SpaceX.
And finally, to juxtapose with these huge characters we have Greg “Gadget” Abbott, a California-based mechanic/enthusiast who retrofits existing car chassis to change the fuel source from gasoline to electric power.
From the description, one might be concerned that Revenge of the Electric Car is a rather dry watch. But it’s terrifically funny, and revolves around two themes: the fascinating characters Lutz, Ghosn, Musk and Abbot; and, something they didn’t predict when they started producing their electric vehicles, the 2008 economic collapse. The recession placed all four of the projects under serious pressure, and it’s terrific to watch the company heads sweating behind closed doors, as reporters and early investors are baying at their heels.
If you’re hoping that this documentary will inform you about whether electric cars are better than hydrogen cars, or why you should buy an electric car, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a character study, not a tech documentary. But if you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes account of a new technology development, from the perspective of Big Business, it’s perfect.