A lot can happen in five years. Just ask filmmaker Chris Paine, who chronicled the death of plug-in vehicles — specifically GM's EV-1 — in his 2006 documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car?" His sequel, "Revenge of the Electric Car," has a much happier ending, now that carmakers have realized EVs make economic as well as environmental sense. Opening Oct. 21, the film has already won its first award, from the Environmental Media Association, putting it on the fast track for Oscar consideration.
"This is such a different movie," says Paine (pictured right). "'Who Killed the Electric Car?' was really about activism and going up against corporate positions. [This time] we made the decision not to make an issue movie but to make a movie about characters." Starting in fall 2007, he focused his camera on General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who, blamed for the EV-1's demise, seeks to atone for it by championing the development of the Chevy Volt; Nissan's Carlos Ghosn, who seeks to make an affordable electric car for the masses; Elon Musk, who struggles to produce his pricey Tesla roadster before he runs out of money; and a DIY electric car converter named Greg "Gadget" Abbott, who personifies perseverance.
Allowed inside access, Paine witnesses how crises (stock market free-fall, design glitches, money woes, and for Gadget, a fire) impact the development and production process, and how gas hitting $4 a gallon turns out to be a benefit, skyrocketing demand. But with less than 50,000 electric cars on the road now versus millions of gas-engine vehicles, "It's going to be a generation or two" before the majority shifts, Paine believes. He dismisses concerns some people have raised about the toxicity of electric car batteries. "It turns out that almost all car batteries never end up in landfills. And with the lithium batteries everyone is using now, it's mostly standard materials that you can recycle," he says.
Even though Toyota denied him access for filming, he credits the Prius with "getting a lot of people thinking" about alternative energy cars, "so I give them points for that," says Paine, who drives a Volt, Motor Trend's 2011 Car of the Year. Nissan's Leaf, which won the 2011 European Car of the Year award, has the biggest share of the electric market right now. "There will be a million electric vehicles on the road worldwide by 2015," he predicts, noting that real revolution has to come from both consumers and corporations. "You've got to have protests from the outside to push society in a direction you want, but the other thing you need is people within organizations, innovators working inside companies, to make change."
For theaters and other information, visit revengeoftheelectriccar.com.
Also on MNN: Our auto blogger weighs in on the movie
Photo: ZUMA Press