Don’t miss the ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’

Once people interested in electric cars were seen as the fanatic fringe of the green movement. The passion for electric vehicles was especially strong in Pasadena. Despite this, the new EV movie first opened in Los Angeles and plays for only one week in Pasadena, ending its run on 17 November 2011 (this Thursday) at the Laemmle.

That was before being green became so trendy and when the future of EVs seemed dim.

The EV fever in Los Angeles was centered at and around Caltech. Chris Paine, the director of 2006 “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and now the new documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car,” commented in a recent telephone interview, “The whole modern electric car era came out of Caltech. The EV1 was designed by AeroVironment (in Monrovia). They ended up with the Impact which became the EV1.”

Produced between 1996 to 1999, the EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle and yet, the cars were only available for lease.  In 2003, GM recalled and crushed the cars while former owners made vocal protests in Los Angeles.

As a former EV1 owner, Paine poured his anger into his documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which was a diatribe against the car and oil companies. Paine explained, “My first film was not meant to bash any particular car company…GM led the lawsuit against California to kill that California mandate that brought these cars to market.” While Toyota and Honda didn’t join, they did advocate a change to that mandate.  “The big tragedy was not only did they cancel the EV programs, but they destroyed the cars.” Of course, not all the cars were destroyed. Toyota spared its EVs, and that was a good PR move.

Toyota, instead of GM, took the lead in the hybrid market with its Prius that now has a plug-in version. Oddly, Toyota isn’t part of the new documentary. Paine commented, “We approached all the car companies…but Toyota and Honda didn’t return our calls.” Instead, the movie follows GM, Nissan and the new kid on the block Tesla Motors.

Tesla Motors itself was only possible because of the t-zero, an electric sportscar developed  at the San Dimas-based AC Propulsion.

In “Revenge,” Paine follows four people for five years: former vice chairman of GM Bob Lutz, the current CEO of Japan-based Nissan Carlos Ghosn, the co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors Elon Musk, TV personality Reverend Gadget (Greg Abbott whose series “Gadget’s Electric Garage” shows how to convert gas-powered vehicles to electric).  Lutz championed the Chevy Volt, and Ghosn,  the Nissan Leaf.  During this time, both GM and Tesla turned to the federal government for a handout, Nissan moved its headquarters from Gardena, CA to Nashville, Tennessee and Reverend Gadget lost everything in a fire. How’s that for drama?

Moreover movie shows “a fantastic turn-around for a generally slow moving industry” where now, according to Paine, change is happening from within the system.  “Experience changes people,” he explained, and “every car maker in the world except Ferrari and Lamborghini have an EV in the works.”

Even die-hards who were once skeptical have changed their minds, like automotive columnist for the Wall Street Journal Dan Neil who comments during the film, “I love gasoline horsepower, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never buy another gasoline-powered car for as long as I live. The only way forward is electric cars.” And that is truly the “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

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