Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Electric Car

I have visions of extension cords wrapped around light poles, dragging behind trunks, cluttering up storage space and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  Instead of smelling gas fumes for 2 minutes I see hundreds of people lined up, waiting to plug in and then waiting to charge.  Will Starbucks migrate to the Valero station?  After all, if it takes an hour or two to power up for the trip home, someone has to make money in that time frame.  It's the American Way.

Automobile Magazine's Car of the Year is the Chevy Volt.  Yes, an American car.  Yes, a Chevrolet.  From the design staff and the engineering staff and the secretarial staff who drove and commented and submitted their ideas, the editorial staff decided that
(I)t is genuinely an all-new car, in the most simplistic sense as well as in the greater notion that the Volt is unlike any vehicle we have ever driven. 
Because it is sui generis, because it is taking the concept of the green vehicle off the drawing board and onto our roadways, because it is new, it is now the Car of the Year. 

In 2007 and again in 2010 the Volkswagon GTI was awarded that honor. The Schnozz is a 2007 GTI, and it is a pure driving delight.  It is mechanically sound and pretty to look at and has the sweetest little shift action.  It is a car, not an experiment.  The Volt feels like an experiment.

I'm not sure how I feel about a car that can't get me across the Grapevine and into Bakersfield without a fully charged battery pack.  It's one thing to run out of gas; gas stations exist.  But what happens when you are driving across Utah, or Nebraska, or Wyoming or Nevada?  The roads are long and straight and lightly traveled; there are no gas stations let alone electric lines that run along the highways.  People there live off the grid, without sewers, with wells, with lone wires running from a pole to the house.  I don't see charging stations as a natural enhancement to the environment.  Or a practical plan.

Now, to be fair, the Volt has a gas/electric hybrid system powering itself.  You begin by using the electric charge and, when that runs out, after 25-50 miles according to GM, the vehicle switches itself to using good old fossil fuel. Premium fossil fuel at that.   I suppose that's how I'd get across Utah. 

The magazine found fault with the design, the interior appointments and the inaccessible back seat.  It's plastic and not user-friendly and it costs $41,000.  Somehow, though, it still became Car of the Year.

And so I wonder: is this our show-up-get-a-trophy world run amok?  Do something different and people will rush to make sure you know how wonderful you are?  Congratulations on making a ticky-tacky vehicle?  The Volt might well be "an automotive pioneer" but calling it "the most important vehicle on the road today" feels a tad over-reaching. So does calling it the Automobile of the Year. 

I'm sorry, but creating a vehicle that costs too much and delivers too little doesn't seem to deserve a prize.
Thanks to Big Cuter for this prompt.  Apparently I did have some thoughts on the electric car :)


  1. glad to offer suggested thoughts, though I'm still waiting for your input on the inversion of traditional gender roles in modern entertainment.

    On the Volt, I'm not sure how I feel about that car specifically, but there was a really cool article on slate yesterday ( talking about a different electric car. The central idea was that these are for city folk who's average daily driving is under 75 miles. That's probably the majority of American drivers. Now I don't know whether it's ultimately more eco friendly to use the chargers for a car, and however much gas that takes, or to just drive, but I'd imagine as the technology evolves it will allow for more efficient energy usage.

    So, whether you see the car-of-the-year award as deserving for the innovation, a blatant shill for an American company, or just a "thanks for showing up" award, I think the innovation and new thinking does deserve some form of recognition.

  2. Your last sentence was the reason the car won the award, Billy. I'm not sure that it's a useful vehicle for people who live in Marin, for example, where I drove 50-90 miles a day shuttling you all around and hiking and shopping and using the highway. It was almost 12 miles from home to high school, for example.

    As for it being a city vehicle, perhaps the development money for the Volt (which accounts for the high cost) would have been better spent on public transportation options - light rail, eg. In Chicago I could go for a week without getting into the car, even after I had children. Part of its being "the city that works" is the excellent public transit.

    If the Zip cars in San Francisco are Volts, that makes a lot of sense. As a car for the regular commuter/parent/traveler there are many better alternatives.

    The box in your closet shows the importance of all those "thanks for showing up" awards. I was liking The Schnozz more because she (yes, she!) was 2007's Automobile of the Year, but if it's a "concept" award then I have to rethink my love affair.

  3. Do you know of the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? I haven't seen it all but it shows up every now and then on one of the "off-brand" channels: IFC, Sundance... Very interesting.

    I haven't heard or read much about the Volt, but I did read somewhere recently about Honda's weirdly-named Fit, their own all-electric vehicle. Its range is 70-100 miles, and it supposedly will come with a "recharging station locator" feature. Estimated price less than $20K, although I still sort of catch myself gasping every now and then that a five-figure cost for anything except houses is considered suitable for tight budgets.

    All-electric cars are probably at about the same point, market-wise, that (say) cell phones were sometime around the mid-'90s. Or PDAs (like the Palm Pilot) were more recently. Or flat-panel TVs. People look at them and say, "Why the hell would I put up with THAT?" A few years later the same people are wondering how they managed without.

    But it's sort of funny to see you operating in curmudgeon mode. It's not an outfit I'd expect to see you wearing, but it's a good fit.

  4. Having an own car is a dream for many people and also it becomes very common.There are many people who are looking for buy an electric car and many automobile companies has made exclusive model of electric cars.


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