Sunday, April 24, 2011

Revenge of the Electric Car

During the debates over the bailout for the auto companies, it surprised and saddened me to see that there were quite a few folks on the left who advocated for letting GM die - and they pointed to the film ""Who Killed the Electric Car" as the motive for their reasoning. What they weren't taking into account, besides the loss of jobs and the thousands of shattered lives that event would have created, was that GM almost immediately started working on the Volt after the demise of the EV1 - and we are seeing those glorious results today.

Chris Paine, director of both films, recently traded in his Prius for a Volt. Pretty much says it all.

If the electric car gets revenge in a new film, then three automakers building them must be happy.

The documentary "Revenge of the Electric Car," directed by Chris Paine, opened Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival. It traces the efforts of General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Motors to build and sell electric vehicles.

Paine previously directed the 2006 film "Who Killed the Electric Car" which told the beginnings and the terminations of the first electric vehicles. It was very critical of GM's decision to kill its electric vehicle EV1 program.

"Revenge" follows the efforts of then GM vice chairman Bob Lutz, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to develop electric vehicles starting in 2008. "We focused on what kind of people it takes to really change something fundamentally," Paine said.

After GM dumped $1B into the EV1 program and couldn't find a way to make it successful, it was a big risk to turn around and try again - and the film shows the story of how close they came to losing it all.

The film has a heartbreaking scene of the empty darkened Warren Tech center as audio of President Barack Obama's June 2009 speech is played announcing GM's filing for bankruptcy.

But the film ends on upbeat notes: featuring footage of Obama at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant looking at a Volt and Lutz watching the 100th Volt come off the assembly line.

It also shows Nissan breaking ground on its expansion of its Smyrna, Tenn., plant to build the Leaf in the United States. "I can tell my kids , 'Hey we were on of the first to come up with this new electric vehicle," exclaims one of the employees.

Tesla is seen unveiling its new factory to build its Model S and the company's successful IPO launch on Wall Street. The company has sold nearly 1,800 Roadsters worldwide - more EVs than either GM or Nissan.

The best to everyone - soon we will have Ford and the others joining the ranks. It's still going to be a while until electric vehicles are truly mainstream, but we are now well on the way. This film doesn't have a distributor yet, but I hope it will be available through DVD or Netflix soon. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

UPDATE 4/26: New story this morning fits on this post:

The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf won the highest safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — a boost toward winning broad consumer acceptance of electrically powered vehicles.

IIHS, an industry-funded group that prods automakers to build safer cars, said the tests were the first conducted in the United States on plug-in electric cars.

The Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle with a backup gasoline engine, and the battery electric Leaf earned the top ratings of "good" for front, side, rear, and rollover crash protection.

IIHS said the milestone demonstrates that automakers are using the same safety engineering in new electric cars as they do in gasoline-powered vehicles. Both won "Top Safety Pick" honors from IIHS.

The Volt and the Leaf may look like small cars, but their weight may surprise you. It did me.

IIHS said the battery packs bring the vehicles' curb weights closer to midsize and larger cars. The Leaf weighs about 3,370 pounds and the Volt about 3,760 pounds.

That compares to about 3,200 pounds for Nissan's Altima, a midsize car; and about 3,580 pounds for Chevrolet's Impala, a large family car.

And with that weight comes better performance in crash tests. Also makes the fuel economy even more impressive.