It’s amazing how much difference a few years can make for an entire industry–notably the automobile industry. Understandably, Revenge of the Electric Car (2011), director Chris Paine’s sequel to his much lauded 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, is an immediately more optimistic film than its predecessor.
The titles should be the obvious cues; however, it’s startling how unfocused Revenge is compared to the straightforward whodunit of the original. Instead of a more thorough examination of the electric car’s rise back from the grave, Paine chooses to tell the story by chronicling the highs and lows of four men trying to bring electric cars back into the American spotlight: Bob Lutz (GM), Carlos Ghosn (Renault/Nissan), Elon Musk (Tesla Motors), and Greg Abbott (independent).
While it was surprising to see how much access each person (and company) granted Paine for this project (most notably with the secret unveiling of the Chevy Volt), this is where the film’s story ultimately suffered as it spent too much time developing the personal backgrounds of each man and not enough time on the development of the actual cars. The most cringe-worthy scene is where Musk discusses the problems with the initial Tesla Roadsters, who laments the delivery delays for their future owners only to find that the specific car being worked on was Paine’s.
To me, the most nagging questions about electric car’s return was ‘why’ and ‘what.’ Why was the electric car suddenly so sexy to car manufacturers? And what were the drivers for that push? Sure, consumer demand for non-American compact cars helped. Sure, big male egos were also important (especially Musk). But there had to be others. Perhaps the unglamorous aspects of transportation policy wouldn’t have been good for the screen (think tax credits or push from the mighty Federal government), although Paine does discuss the recession and bailouts. I just kept wanting more.
I also wished there was more screen time devoted to Abbott and other independent electric car manufacturers who no doubt kept chugging away with their work even after the EV1’s demise. Ultimately, Revenge Of The Electric Car is fine, but it fails to live to its predecessor. I foresee another sequel that maybe fleshes out the electric car’s story a bit more.
Again, this documentary leaves you optimistic that change is happening right now, but the success of the electric car depends on many more factors that Paine didn’t discuss: electric battery limitations, lack of charge stations and related infrastructure, price of gasoline, sprawl, and consumer demand (!!!).
[image via IMDB | photo via Tesla Motors]