Saturday, September 17, 2011

[SIFF11] Revenge of the Electric Car

That's How You Build Them

I've only managed to watch Who Killed The Electric Car? on DVD since it didn't manage to get a theatrical release here, and I was intrigued at how director Chris Paine managed to weave his documentary into a sort of murder-mystery that exposes how the environmentally friendly car EV1 got systematically canned despite it being a relatively superior product with advantageous to be reaped against the more conventional motor vehicle, even though it showed so much potential in being environmentally friendly. But profits and strange bedfellows meant an early death for the electric car, until now.

It's a known fact that fossil fuels are finite, and the day will come when we no longer have them in abundance to supply our energy needs. Alternative fuels are slowly becoming a necessity, and with the shifts in mindsets come the shift in business propositions, forcing a relook into the viability of the electric vehicle, which Paine now revisits through a number of years spanning 2007 until today, where once opponents to the electric car such as GM's Bob Lutz have now become proponents as they realize the competitiveness, or the lack thereof, of the automobile industry in the USA will severely lack behind rivals from overseas as they look to the creation of electric vehicles.

Paine's documentary narrated by Tim Robbins takes on a distinct and different look and feel from its predecessor, opting to go with personalities to fuel the film forward, and to be honest it's a real treat to be going behind the scenes to the boardrooms where decisions get made and the factory design and assembly areas to see first hand how prototypes get made, tested, approved or rejected. From big players like General Motors to Nissan in Japan, to smaller upstarts such as Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, we get to listen in to the various woes faced by players in the industry as they struggle through diminishing cash flows no thanks to the financial institutions meltdown in recent years, and how that impacted their staying afloat, what more trying to come out with a vehicle that has to boast respectible outputs compared to conventional vehicles, and the challenges faced with battery life.

It also had star power, albeit used ever so briefly from Danny DeVito to Jon Favreau as talking heads, although Bob Lutz and even Carlos Ghosn of Nissan became unlikely engrossing personalities where we get a peek into their work ethics. Elon Musk of Tesla was particularly engaging, of someone who had earned his fortune being the founder of Paypal, entering cutting edge companies such as SpaceX and Tesla to try and make the world a better and more interesting place, but being cut down to size for what would be entrepreneurs not being second time lucky with their ventures. In fact, Musk got made to look somewhat vulnerable for a CEO, as well as dodgy at times due to failure to deliver as promised, and shockingly admitting to baiting and switching. Captured on video.

Making its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year on April 22 to coincide with Earth Day to lend it some street cred gravitas, Revenge of the Electric Car doesn't really explore the comeback of the vehicle much less than it being a film about the possible powerhouses and decision makers in a position to bring about major changes to the industry. It isn't easy, and if I take a look at our own backyard the infrastructure isn't there yet to make it easy nor mass market, but I suppose that day will come one day, and hopefully within my lifetime where I can get to own something affordable that takes me from Point A to B with zero pollution.

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