Chris Paine just called with good news. His film "Revenge of the Electric Car" — the successor to the big hit, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" — is slated to open widely (or certainly wider than it has so far) on Oct. 22. If you haven't seen the original, you need to remedy the situation.
The sequel is slated to get what's called a "hybrid" release that combines major metro area theatrical runs with special event screenings. And you can still go to the film's website and request a showing in your area — the most votes gets the film first. The Sierra Club, Electric Drive Transportation Association and others have also partnered in presenting the movie.
So far, "Revenge" has been seen only in special screenings, including a premiere I attended at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. It just had a repeat performance in New York’s Central Park, sponsored by Mayor Bloomberg and coinciding with his announcement that the city is acquiring 70 new electric cars (50 of them Chevy Volts). The NYPD will be driving Volts!
"I'm very pleased with the reaction so far," Paine (at left, with the Volt) told me. "You always get worried that your movie might be coming out too late, but 'Who Killed' didn't find its true audience for a year. I hope the timing is right."
Paine's film is a nicely calibrated (and beautifully filmed) character study with a special focus on some of the larger-than-life players in this high-stakes drama — Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, Bob Lutz (he's the climate naysayer who as vice chairman of GM was nonetheless the driving force behind the Volt) and Carlos Ghosn (the hard-driving CEO of Nissan who championed the Leaf).
What emerges from the film is that these people, and many others, have taken a big gamble with electric cars. Now success is a little more assured, but it didn't look much like that several years ago when these cars were first in the design studios. The Volt and Leaf are bright ideas emerging from a world in economic crisis.
It’s interesting that "Revenge" covers much the same ground as my forthcoming book, "High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry" (Rodale), which hits the ground around the same time as the movie (Nov. 8). There's definitely synergy between my work and Paine's, and you'll hear more about that in the near future.
It does seem that "Revenge" will be well-timed. Electric car deployment is moving quickly, and the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, both featured prominently, are doing respectably. Market leader Nissan now has gotten 4,400 electric Leafs on the road in the U.S. The car, slightly more expensive for 2012 at $37,250 for the upscale and popular SL trim, is also getting into many more markets. Orders open July 25 for customers with existing reservations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia. On August 4 (my birthday!), the company will start taking new reservations — so it may be time to get in line.
Chevrolet sold 2,745 plug-in hybrid Volts in the first six months of 2011, but the number doesn’t mean much because the factory has been on hiatus as it retools for larger capacity. I talked to Chevy dealer Leo Karl III of New Canaan, Connecticut last night and he told me he has sold 16 Volts — all he can get. He said shoppers are calling from all over the country looking for Volts, but he wants to sell them only to Connecticut residents — that way, he can keep an eye on the short-supply cars.
Another wild card is whether the electric cars now being deployed will have a place to charge, but that answer is coming in. Corporate America has embraced EV charging. Pioneers like Best Buy, Whole Foods and Cracker Barrel are all plugging in, and Walgreens just changed the game with the announcement that it would host some 800 chargers by the end of the year. That’s game-changing.
Paine is optimistic. “I’m hoping the film will find a nice mainstream audience,” he said. “I’ve gotten some pushback from super-leftie purists, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive. There’s no room on the agenda for reality, sometimes.” I know what Paine means about the purists. When I was, briefly, a green car columnist in anarchist-friendly Eugene, Oregon, I got a lot of grief from activists who didn’t think we should be driving cars at all. Even though I regularly pulverized Detroit in my columns, I wasn’t writing about bicycles enough, apparently.
But let’s face it, America is a car-centric country, and we can really make a huge impact on climate and local emissions by reforming the American automobile. Revenge covers the genesis of that reform, and it’s an exciting story.
Here's a sneak peek of the film: