'Revenge of the Electric Car' movie: Elon Musk and Bob LutzEnlarge Photo
From Michael Moore's Roger And Me in 1989 to Chris Paine's 2006 Who Killed The Electric Car?, there's no shortage of documentaries that portray auto-industry executives as incompetent, bumbling, short-sighted, arrogant fools.
So it may be a surprise that merely five years later, two global automakers and one upstart new car company are the heroes of Paine's new documentary, Revenge Of The Electric Car, in the person of one executive at each.
Most startling of all, General Motors--the malevolent villain that heartlessly took back and crushed the EV1 electric cars it had leased to well-connected Californian owners--is a hero in this one.
Footage of visits to GM may be narrated with the phrase "behind enemy lines"--twice--but that's merely for color.
My, how times change.
The film's story line focuses on three industry executives and their struggles to develop and launch what will become the world's first three modern electric cars.
'Revenge of the Electric Car' movie: 2011 Chevrolet Volt productionEnlarge Photo
One is Bob Lutz, the always-colorful, cigar-smoking "car guy" who returned to GM in 2001 to shake up its product development. He is the unlikely champion of the Chevrolet Volt, the 2007 concept that became the world's first modern range-extended electric car.
Then there's Carlos Ghosn, the flinty-eyed CEO who runs both Nissan and Renault, jetting around the world to oversee his empire. He is, as journalist Dan Neil says, the man who doesn't get up in the morning unless he knows how much money it will make him.
Finally, there's Elon Musk, who emerged as CEO of electric-car startup Tesla Motors and steered it through the perilous waters of launching its first vehicle, the 2009 Tesla Roadster.
Musk deals with production delays, quality problems, the economic meltdown, insufficient funding, layoffs, his own divorce, and the stresses of running not only Tesla, but also his rocket company, SpaceX.
A fourth character is director Paine's close friend and neighbor, Greg "Gadget" Abbott.
'Revenge of the Electric Car' movieEnlarge Photo
He's an electric-car converter, but he's largely irrelevant to the main story and serves mostly to add zaniness to the otherwise stolid white-male auto industry world.
Gadget's triumphant New Year's Eve party in a new warehouse garage, with participants in French Empire garb, is an unexpected if cheerful diversion from the story line.
Many years, many billions
The movie covers ground that's familiar to auto journalists, but perhaps not so much to the public at large--and often not at all to electric-car advocates.
The main lesson: It takes several years and billions of dollars (or, for Musk, at least hundreds of millions) to develop modern cars, no matter what they're powered by.