The Electric Car Gets Its Revenge

Last night I caught an advance screening of a new documentary, “Revenge of the Electric Car.” It’s by the same director who did “Who Killed The Electric Car?” except this story ends in triumph instead of tragedy.

Shot with luscious gloss and verve, the film follows four men trying to be the first to the finish line with a viable electric car: Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, and Greg “Gadget” Abbot, a DIY inventor.

The movie is directed by Chris Paine, whose 2006 activist film “Who Killed The Electric Car” showed how corporate and special interests conspired to destroy the nascent electric car industry. Back then, they even revoked the leases on electric cars that were already on the road, seizing back the cars and scrapping them despite the lessees really wanting to keep driving them. This time around, some of the old villains have returned as unlikely paladins, trying to make a viable product for a new time where electric cars are no longer a quirky experiment, but an economic and environmental necessity.

moviescreen.jpg(Ben Popken)

Navigating the “spin machines” of each of these companies was a challenge, said director Chris Paine in a Q&A after the screening. “There were times where would shoot for three days but it wouldn’t go into the film because it turned out to be a PR stunt,” he said. “We had to be very careful, we made sure that we were setting the shooting dates, not them.”

Besides the struggles of overcoming production woes, fighting off the press and self-doubt, and the recession, the film also shows these men, each a giant in his own way, in smaller moments. Elon Musk’s face twitches with stress after he’s just explained to a meeting of would-be owners who had put down deposits how he’s raising the price on a car he had still so far failed to deliver. To the camera he admits that it was a “bait and switch.” In quasi-retirement, the cigar-smoking Bob Lutz frets over what animal is eating the cygnets of the two swans in his pond. He and his wife take a zip on their Segways around a pathway on the rolling and wooded lawn of his estate, resplendent in their tan pants and fitted sweaters. All this occurs against a backdrop of car manufacturers begging for a loan from Washington, the US becoming a shareholder in GM, and fears about the future of manufacturing, of any kind, in America.

“I don’t know it will play with Zuccotti Park,” said Chris Paine. “It’s a story about innovation and struggle…These guys are heroes. Heroes I wouldn’t have normally chosen.”

Jalopnik’s Ray Wert, one of the experts who appears in the movie, added that the film shows that “corporations are not these monoliths. Corporations can sometimes do good things… ultimately it’s about people.”

And by the end, each one of those people has overcome adversity. Their companies are solvent. They’re producing electric cars. Consumers are buying them. It seems that after getting stuffed into an early grave, the electric car is back from the dead.

The film opens October 21 in New York and Los Angeles.

Revenge Of The Electric Car [Official Site]

Really Creepy Ads Killed The Electric Car
What’s Creepier, New Chevy Volt Ads, Or John Carpenter’s Christine?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Talisker says:

    I saw a showing of this, but unfortunately the movie only went about 3/4 of the expected running time before it ran out of juice.

  2. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    Who holds back the electric car?
    Who made Steve Guttenberg a star?!

    WE DO!
    WE DO!

    • Wasp is like Requiem for a Dream without the cheery bits says:


      Back when the Simpsons was funny.

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        I haven’t watched anything past the 10th season, except the movie. I heard that Mrs. Flanders died or ran away to join the circus or something? And then they kept having “Very Special Episodes?” I don’t even know. I lost track.

        But the Stonecutters episode was one of my favorites, just for that song. :D

  3. ninabi says:

    We’ll have to watch this. In December, we will be powering an electric car off our now fully solar house. Won’t be paying for gas. Or electricity.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Nice! I think it’d be sweet to get off the grid and such … but we haven’t seen the sun here since um … Tuesday. :(

    • LanMan04 says:

      Do you live on the equator? Or use like zero electricity? How the heck can you power an entire house + a car with PV panels?

      • belsonc says:

        My brother in law wired their house to run off of solar panels and used vegetable oil, and this is in lower upstate NY…

      • perruptor says:

        I live in MA, and have a 5.5kW solar array on my roof. It produces more electricity than we use. I’m waiting for my gas dryer and stove to wear out so I can replace them with an electric ones. My next car will probably be an electric one, Even if that tips me back over the line to being a net consumer of electricity, it’s still worth it.

        The idea that PV solar is only useful in the Sun Belt is mistaken.

        • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

          Just curious – I live in PA and would like to do this someday – can you give a ballpark cost of this system?

          • perruptor says:

            Total cost was $44K.
            The state gave a rebate of 10.5K
            Federal income tax refund was around 12K (ymmv)
            There was also a state tax refund; it wasn’t much.

            Out-of-pocket: $21.5K

            Every month, the power company sends us a bill for $0, showing a credit accumulated. We’ll use some of that credit up if snow covers the panels like it did in January.

            We also get checks from selling the wattage as SRECs at auction, to utilities that are obliged by their states to buy a percentage of their power from renewable sources. One SREC = one megaWatt. That process is all automatic. All we have to do is cash the checks. Oh, and those SRECS are all the power we generated, even if we used it to run our house.

            Apparently, SRECs are not as lucrative in PA.

      • ninabi says:

        We live in the SW in a solar community. Our house was partial solar- full solar would not have been a cost savings measure until we did the calculations that by going full solar with additional panels for the overnight charge of an electric car would pay for itself in 4.5 years once we weren’t filling up a big gas tank every week.

        We realize there are limitations- the electric car is the around-the-city vehicle but our driving habits over the past 18 months showed that wouldn’t be a problem.

        • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

          try some small scale wind, if you get a fair price and have a decent wind corridor the rate of return is frequently twice as fast as solar, as another bonus, there are only 2 ball bearings to wear out so a properly built mill will outlive you at nearly no maintenance cost

      • KainCooper says:

        I have solar panels on my roof and actually get money from our local electric company instead of having to pay.

  4. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Ooh this is interesting. I’ll have to add this to my Netfl-

    Ohhhh, right…

  5. bikeoid says:

    “Carols Ghosn” -> Carlos Ghosn

  6. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    Awesome, I can’t wait to see it. I loved Who Killed the Electric Car?.

  7. dolemite says:

    So how can GM go from villain to hero? If they had stuck with it in the first place, maybe the volt wouldn’t cost 40K and someone would buy it.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      It also wouldn’t be a hybrid/electric-assist car, and would have been fully electric.

    • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

      GM is in over their heads, they have 1950s methodology combined with allied war machine mfring but this is a silicon race, if you cannot ship a new flawless product every 6 months, you don’t matter

      volt is a great example, an excellent car… for 1995… for a whopping 40k you get a car that can only do 30ish miles on battery, gets worse mileage then the prius and is as sporty as moms minivan… the amp at least looked good but the way i see it GM is yet to get back to EV1 days….

      Fiat is my wildcard entry that can easily do a clean sweep if they don’t f it up.

  8. Pooterfish says:

    I haven’t heard the word “paladin” since D&D days in jr. high. Good vocabulary word.

    Personally, I’m chaotic good.

    • dolemite says:

      I hear it all the time, but I’ve played a lot of RPGs and MMOs. For the longest time I thought it was pronounced Pa-lay-din instead of pal-uh-din (basically until college when my fellow dorky room mate set me straight).

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      I always thought of Paladins as being Lawful Anal.

      (Thank you Mr. Welch!)

      • golfinggiraffe says:

        Which is all the more appropriate when one of your party members behaves as if having a stick up his ass is a class feature.

  9. Apeweek says:

    I’m the proud owner of a Volt, and guess what – it wasn’t even expensive. It can be leased for $350/month.

    Considering I’m saving nearly $150/month in fuel costs (electricity is much cheaper than gas), it’s the same monthly outlay as leasing a gas car for $200/month.

    My local Meijer even has a free EV charging station. I do all my shopping there, and fill my electric “tank” for free.

    • ARP says:

      I think that’s the answer. A combination of government (ooohh, scary) and private industry putting in recharging stations to allay “EV anxiety” until distances catch up.

      Right now they’re at around 100 miles which is more than enough for most commuters. But we Americans sometimes (over)buy cars and other things for the once every 10 years events and not our every day use.

      I think once we reach the 200 mile range and/or get rapid charging, that will be the tipping point.

      • Firethorn says:

        The Tesla Roadster already has a range in excess of 200 miles(driven legally). Fast charging is a problem in that, for a fairly light car, it takes 53 kwh to reach 244 miles.

        1000 watts for 1 hour = 1 kwh, so it’d take 53 hours to charge the battery at that rate. For a 1 hour charge, you’d need 53kw to be going over the wires – at 600V that’s still 88 amps, which would call for 2 AWG, or wire that’s a quarter inch in diameter, not including insulation.

        Going with 240V? That’s 221A, or you needing wire that’s half an inch thick. Don’t forget the problems in distributing all that power around the grid. Frequently at night, to boot.

        Solar panels on roofs would help for day charging by reducing average current loads all around but still…

        • Apeweek says:

          An EV battery pack is never run completely down to zero – that would kill the battery. So the charging requirement is more like 45 KWH. The Tesla Roadster’s standard charger currently runs on 240v at 50 amps. That’s 12KWH per hour, and charges the Tesla in about 3.5 to 4 hours.

          Fast charging is already available for the Nissan Leaf, from level 3 DC fast-chargers. These chargers can get a Leaf to 90% charged in a little over 20 minutes. The design of these chargers doesn’t require industrial power hookups because they’re full of batteries. The design pulls inexpensive off-peak power into the charger’s batteries all night, and uses them to supplement grid power while charging cars. Nissan has also demonstrated a 10-minute fast-charger.

          Obviously, barring huge amounts of batteries, such chargers can’t support huge fleets of EVs – but they shouldn’t have to. Most EV owners will continue to charge inexpensively at home, overnight, and only look for fast-charging in an emergency, or on a long trip.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      How does it go in the snow, and how fast does it go? My commute is 23 miles one way to work…about 5 miles on country roads, and then the final 18 on a 4 lane w/ 65 + mph. Plus, we get snow and bad weather, and there have been many times I wouldn’t have been able to go to work without my 4WD. And if you plug it in at home, because I can honestly say I’ve never seen a charging station, how much does it raise the electric bill?

      • Apeweek says:

        Contrary to assumptions, EVs do well in snow. Heavy batteries make for great traction, and electric motors – unlike gas engines – have all their torque available right from 0 rpm.

        Not saying this beats 4WD, it probably doesn’t. But the Volt takes snow quite well.

        I’m on a split-rate plan with my utility, that gets me a lower rate overnight – just 7 cents per KWH. So a full charge is about 90 cents. Way, way cheaper than gasoline.

        • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

          I’m still wondering where that assumption is even coming from, all of our electric drivetrains perform at least 10 times better at traction control over ICE counterparts since we get to specify the exact amount of torque needed and get to do it virtually instantly, my control system is able to adjust the output within 1us every 10ns, also, 4WD on an electric car is quite an easy task to accomplish

  10. shthar says:

    Just another bump on the road to the hydrogen car.

    • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

      you do realize that a hydrogen car IS an electric car with a HYDROGEN BATTERY CELL right? hydrogen makes a crap injector fuel, the issue in the first place is that the storage solution with conversions is roughlyish 50% loss, on li-po

      • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:


        apparently site hates the less then symbol

        “on lipo less then 10% is the norm”

  11. Elgog Partynipple says:

    That jab about GM taking back the Evo electric car from the lessees is only partially true. According to Federal Regulation, parts and service have to be available for cars for 10 years after it is produced. If GM would have let the testers keep thier cars, GM would have had to start a parts and maintenance program for them across the country. That would have been very expensive. Don’t forget, there were only test vehicles. The lease stipulated that the cars had to be returned. It’s one of the same problems Chrystler had with the Turbine car. After sales service and parts are just not feasable for such a small number of cars.

    • IgnoramusEtIgnorabimus says:

      you just need to sell them under exempt categories such as “race only” titles and have the customers deal with the registration issues (i’ve seen a fair share of clearly illegal vehicles with valid plates) the issue GM had was the technology gap, they knew japan was ahead of them (strictly technology wise not necessarily that they had a better ev1 in the closet) and can make more competitive vehicles (as they do), GM made a bet that the ’00s will be a decade of prosperity where everyone would bite at the “the bigger the better” attitude and they needed to spin off the EV1 as a nice pipe dream but won’t work on the roads, most people outside california were lead to believe that the ev project was a giant failure and “hydrogen is the future” …sadly for GM, the marketing department is not as bright as their ads would make it seem, their lineup makes very little sense if you take it in chronological perpective

      1. gas guzzlers
      2. all electric
      3. gas guzzlers
      4. hybrid
      5. plug in hybrid

      proper order is 1,3,4,5,2

      whole volt project was obsolete by the time it was released since leaf will effectively give customers what they NEED not just what they FEEL they NEED. 30 miles is barely enough to do daily chores so the user is still stuck at the pump quite more often then necessary (especially considering that the EVs are the best bang for the buck when you use them the most) so instead of increasing that usable electric range, you devote quite a lot of costs and weight towards carrying a “backup” engine that you should not need…

      also, the parts for EVs were often shared with other vehicle lines so keeping 10% of fleet as parts would allow an easy maintenance upkeep (not everyone had the money to pay an X amount for it)