MOVIE REVIEW The Revenge of The Electric Car (Story of the Chevrolet Volt)

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Revenge of The Electric Car (Story of the Chevrolet Volt)

An Electric Car Drives an Industry s Change

October 20, 2011

Chris Paine s Who Killed the Electric Car?, a pointed 2006 deconstruction of what happened when California tried to encourage development of alternatively powered vehicles, concluded that it was an inside job, with conspirators including automakers, oil companies and compromised regulators.

Whether you bought the premise or not consumer indifference was a real issue as well General Motors, the company whose decision to shut down production of its EV1 (for Electric Vehicle) made it the film s biggest bad guy, was clearly rattled.


How much? It invited Mr. Paine to document its development of the Chevrolet Volt, a virtually electric car (it packs a backup gasoline-powered engine) now in production. In Mr. Paine s follow-up film, Revenge of the Electric Car, Bob Lutz an old-school Mr.

Detroit who was then G.M. s vice chairman even serves as tour director.

Chevrolet Electric Cars

Over three years, ending in 2010, the film also tracks the ordeals of Elon Musk at Tesla Motors, scrambling to produce a high-end roadster, and Carlos Ghosn at Nissan Motors, hoping to own the mass market with the Leaf. It showers love as well on Greg Abbott, a California mechanic who converts gas-run cars to battery power.

Trying to retain its street-cred skepticism, the film cuts to analysts and journalists who note that concept cars have often been featured at auto shows, only to be driven back into the garage. And daunting obstacles persist, like battery life and driving-range limits, production costs and consumer-friendly pricing. To industry watchers, this is all old news; the drive to EV is accelerating, with numerous carmakers opening divisions.

But for the larger audience, Revenge is that rare artifact, a snapshot of a major industrial shift on its way to a tipping point. Mr. Lutz says that electrification of the automobile is a foregone conclusion, and Mr.

Ghosn has built his company s entire marketing strategy around that expectation. In the end, Revenge of the Electric Car is a slick, enjoyable valentine to a retooling industry. This optimistic film lacks the outrage of the earlier work, but that s O.K.

A movement needs its triumphs too.

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