Electric cars: We'll all be driving them soon...
You started shooting just before the collapse of the global economy. At what point did you realise what a pivotal time this was?
Probably when General Motors went bankrupt. It was the first time in history a US president had fired a CEO and I thought, wow, we are in the middle of this thing. Your first priority is to always tell a good story and you have to document what is happening, not what you thought might be happening. At the time we were making the film, the auto industry was adjusting to the reality that big trucks and SUVs were not the future of the universe.
Why focus on the three companies you followed? We tried to film six or eight and most said no. We owe a lot to Tesla for taking a risk and allowing us in. Elon [Musk, co-founder and product director at Tesla] paved the way for General Motors and Nissan. Tesla [which designed the electric Roadster sports car, above] helped the whole auto industry think about electric cars more ser-iously. Elon was a risk-taker. You could see General Motors wasn’t that excited about having us there after the first film we did [Who Killed the Electric Car?, in 2006]. I think Bob Lutz, the vice chairman, took a lot of personal risk in convincing the board to let our crew in.
Were some of your protagonists more likeable than others? You begin to like all of your characters, even if you disagree with them. Bob Lutz and I disagreed on every issue except one: the electric car. So he was the most interesting person for me to get to know better. Gadget [an electric car enthusiast who builds his own] was my neighbour for years and an old friend. Elon is a modern genius.
What makes people passionate about electric cars – like yourself, Danny DeVito and [Red Hot Chili Peppers’] Anthony Kiedis, who are also in the film? Hope for the future and what the future can be, as opposed to all the problems we’ve had with the legacy of oil. These cars are super-fun to drive, so you have this double-win: it does a good thing and it’s fun. It doesn’t happen that often, especially with such an industrial product like a car. People like Anthony or Danny or Tim Robbins [the film’s narrator] – more and more people are advocates because they’ve had positive emotional experiences with them.
Is the motor industry genuinely taking electric vehicles more seriously? It’s genuine, and it’s not just a belief – it’s supported by their spreadsheets and engineers. That’s what the title of the film is about. The industry has shifted. Every car maker in the world pretty much, except Lamborghini, is doing electric cars, and many of those will be faster than Lamborghinis. No one wants to be left behind. The auto industry is being reinvented as something cleaner, sexier and more fun, the way it was in 1952 before we figured out all the problems from gasoline.
How long will it be before we are all driving electric cars? Why don’t we all have them now? You see electric technology slip into regular cars even when they don’t tell you. In the US a lot of General Motor vehicles have a feature where the engine will turn off when you are stopped at a traffic light. It will happen in multiple stages.
Will it be in our children’s lifetimes? Definitely. The plug-in parts of it you can put on parking meters, apartment garages… they’ll be in car parks, at airports...
When do you think gasoline-powered vehicles will be a thing of the past? The future will be a mix. There will be a place for gasoline probably for another 100 years. But it will become a smaller and smaller part of the mix.
Revenge of the Electric Car is in cinemas from July 20 and on DVD from August 6. www.revengeoftheelectriccar.co.uk