Change for the better
Chris Paine finds success in 'Revenge of the Electric Car'
By Jana J. Monji 11/10/2011
Just a few years back, people interested in the development of electric cars were seen as part of the fanatical fringe of the Green movement, perhaps especially in Pasadena, where passion for electric vehicles runs especially high.
But that was before being green became not only trendy but also necessary and the future of EVs seemed dim.
EV fever in Los Angeles was actually centered in Pasadena, at Caltech, as recently noted by Chris Paine, director of 2006’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and the new documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car.”
“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,” Paine commented in a recent telephone interview.
Produced from 1996 to 1999, the EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle, yet the cars were available only for lease. In 2003, GM recalled and crushed the cars even as former owners made vocal protests in Los Angeles.
As a former EV1 owner, Paine poured his anger into “Who Killed the Electric Car?” a diatribe against the oil and auto industries. As he 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,” Paine said.
Of course, not all the cars were destroyed. Toyota spared its EVs, and that was a good move from a public relations perspective.
Toyota — not GM — took the lead in the hybrid market with its Prius, which now has a plug-in version. Oddly, Toyota isn’t part of the new documentary.
“We approached all the car companies … but Toyota and Honda didn’t return our calls,” Paine said.
Instead, the movie follows GM, Nissan and the new kid on the block, Tesla Motors, which was itself only possible because of the t-zero, an electric sports car developed at San Dimas-based AC Propulsion.
In “Revenge,” Paine follows four people for five years: former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz; Carlo Ghosn, the current CEO of Japan-based Nissan; Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors; and TV’s 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, while Nissan moved its headquarters from Gardena to Nashville, Tenn., and Abbott lost everything in a fire. How’s that for drama?
Moreover, the film shows “a fantastic turnaround for a generally slow-moving industry,” said Paine, where now 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, like Dan Neil, automotive columnist for the Wall Street Journal, are changing their minds.
“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,” Neil says in the film.
And that is truly the “Revenge of the Electric Car.”