In 2006, as many as 5,000 modern electric cars were destroyed by the major car companies that built them. That automotive massacre was documented in Chris Paine’s documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?
Today, the electric car is back with a vengeance. In Revenge of the Electric Car, Paine is back, taking his crew behind the closed doors of Nissan, General Motors, the Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors, and an independent car converter named Greg “Gadget” Abbott to find the story of the global resurgence of electric cars. With the goal of weaning the country off of foreign oil, this new generation of automobiles promises to be America’s future: fast, furious, and cleaner than ever.
With almost every major carmaker now jumping to produce new electric models, Revenge of the Electric Car follows the race to be the first, the best, and to win the hearts and minds of the public around the world. We watch as these cars are developed from a concept into a working product, and see the car makers themselves struggle with the economy, the press, each other, and the car-buying public.
The electric car renaissance unfolds through the eyes of four industry pioneers. First, there’s Bob Lutz, the larger-than-life General Motors executive who inspires the Volt, GM’s newest electric car program. Lutz is a gruff, cigar-smoking maverick who seems to have stepped straight off the set of Mad Men. After years of skepticism, he’s now convinced that “Electric cars are back with a vengeance.” But can GM overcome years of corporate doubt and public hostility and make a viable electric vehicle? This is the company that killed off the EV1, after all.
Then there’s Elon Musk, the young dot-com billionaire and head of Tesla Motors. Somewhere between launching rockets toward the moon with his private space program, Elon decides that Silicon Valley can teach Detroit a few lessons about car making. The buck stops with Elon for every step and misstep as Tesla Motors swerves from initial excitement into near bankruptcy — and then comes back from the dead with a triumphant IPO.
Don’t forget the dynamic head of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn. A former EV skeptic, Ghosn astonishes the car world in 2009 by announcing the launch of the Nissan Leaf: an affordable electric vehicle meant for mass market. Follow Carlos as he steers the Leaf through Nissan’s corporate culture — and as he attempts to sell the car around the world. It’s a bold gamble. If Nissan succeeds, it will corner the market in mass-produced electric cars. If it fails, the company will disintegrate.
Meanwhile Greg “Gadget” Abbott is one of thousands of do-it-yourselfers who are determined to start the EV revolution right now. Greg’s pride and joy is a silver Porsche Speedster he converted from internal combustion to 100% electric. His goal is to mass produce the car — and drive it from LA to Palm Springs on a single charge. But Greg’s dream collapses when his workshop burns down and he has to start over. Can he remake his life and his car?
Soon, everyone involved realizes that it’s not just the next generation of green cars that’s on the line; it’s the future of the automobile itself. Revenge of the Electric Carchronicles the great shift in technology and automobile history that is taking shape as the cars hit the showrooms in 2011.
Watch Online: www.pbs.org/independentlens/revenge-of-the-electric-car