Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A story on one of my local news channels a few days ago reminded me of an issue I consider quite relevant as an example of precisely why America is stuck in a morass of indecisive and illogical behavior patterns. The car pictured here is the Fisker Karma, a long, heavy, expensive model built in Finland and first sold in the U.S. last November. The Karma is powered by a pair of 161-hp electric motors that can be supplemented by a 260-hp, turbocharged, 2-liter, gasoline engine. The Karma sits on a 124-inch wheelbase, weighs 5300 pounds, and costs $102,000 for the base model or $116,000 for the deluxe version. The EPA rates the total range available at 230 miles if the battery system is fully charged and the gas tank is full. Due to the car's small interior volume, the EPA rates it as a subcompact. If you want more information on the Karma, Wikipedia describes many facets of the car's development history, specifications, and technical capabilities such as range and miles-per-gallon under various conditions and power modes.
The news story concerned the fact that the Delaware facility that was supposed to produce the Fisker Atlantic, a slightly smaller, cheaper, plug-in electric sedan, is apparently at a stalemate. VP Joe Biden had facilitated a plan that would offer a heavy influx of cash from a government loan to bring the project to Wilmington. Now there seems little hope that the plant will be finished and the car produced there. The Atlantic was slated to begin production next year, but at this point the car's future is open to interpretation.
I find this whole idea not only ludicrous, but a glaring symbol of Americans' deep denial of reality! America doesn't need another silly toy for the one-percenters. It needs a hybrid car for the masses, built in the U.S. and providing jobs with decent wages to Americans! Like the ridiculous Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker models are nothing more than a sham to disguise the fact that Americans have totally lost their minds in a sea of denial! America does not need another overpriced car, no matter how it is powered. America needs its own new Volkswagen Beetle. We need another Mustang, Eurosport, Caravan, Taurus, or whatever. We need a car that requires a lot of expensive pre-production tooling for a line that utilizes established mechanical components, but with a new concept in marketing. We need a new model line of hybrids that will sell hundreds of thousands of units. We need hybrid vehicles the middle class can afford and wants to buy.
President Carter changed our political nation for the worse when he made his legendary "tighten our belts" speech. It was not his fault at all. He absolutely did the brave and right thing. What hurt us was that this speech provided the launching pad for the Reagan Revolution of "greed is good" that has brought our once great nation to its financial knees. Our current Commander in Chief is too paranoid for his own political future to tell us the truth we so desperately need to hear.
Rover invented the SUV is England, but the first U.S. model was the Jeep Wagoneer launched in the 1963 model year. Back in the '60's, International Harvester (yes, Maybelle, the tractor company) was building its Scout. Ford introduced its small Jeep (as in CJ) competitor in 1966. The original Bronco was a more modern and comfortable type of off-road recreational vehicle, with a sleek body offering many options and colors. Chevrolet has been producing its Suburban model for decades. All of these vehicles were purchased by buyers with a specific off-road activity in mind, whether it was slinging mud through the boondocks from the exposed tires of a CJ or Scout, or pulling a boat or camper behind a large Suburban loaded with passengers and cargo.
This all changed when Ford introduced its Explorer in 1990. The Explorer unleashed a monster in America that has been almost as devastating to our national sanity as The War on Drugs. The modern SUV Revolution is nothing less than the automotive symbol of Reagan's greed is good concept. The Explorer was specifically designed to appeal to women, not to drive to the boonies, but to city jobs via long daily commutes on the freeway. The higher seating position allowed women to better see above the many overly aggressive pickup truck drivers who constantly cut in front of them. When these arrogant buttheads are not blocking the ladies' view, they are tailgating. Ask many women what they wanted to drive on their everyday suburban trek and they would say a tank! The new type of SUV was designed to give these ladies all the amenities of a comfortable car enclosed in a big, heavy truck-like package with a high level of outward visibility in traffic. The problem is that these tanks get less mileage than a comparable conventional sedan. Yes, of course with advances in technology they get considerably better mileage than the Wagoneers and Suburbans of old. The problem is that those SUV's were used mostly for their intended recreational purposes, and that meant by a very small percentage of the overall car buying public. The modern monsters of our freeways are mostly carrying no passengers and towing no boats. The accessory most often observed being used inside the cabin is a cell phone! Like The War on Drugs, a little of it is not so bad, but a massive explosion of it is very harmful to the future of our culture.
We do not actually need hybrid or electric cars to lessen our fuel consumption. The same advances that have allowed the Explorer to get much better mileage than you might expect have also been applied to small sedans. Most of the virtual swarm of econoboxes manufactured today get twice the mileage of their ancestors of only thirty years ago. These modern marvels of economy produce far higher levels of performance, comfort, style, and overall driving quality than their ancestors did. The problem is simply that far too few Americans are choosing to drive these fuel-efficient vehicles.
What can we as a culture do to improve our plight? The first step is ridiculously simple. We can demand that our political and media leaders tell us the truth. We can face the obvious fact that population is our problem. The population is causing the fuel supplies to dwindle faster than necessary. The population is bringing global warming sooner than expected. Other nations of the world have a different set of problems caused by overpopulation, but that is no excuse for us not to be the leader in addressing the problem in our own backyard. The second problem is The War on Drugs. What a despicably wasteful use of resources and destruction of an otherwise productive citizenry! This nonsense needed to stop long before the Ford Explorer was even launched to clog our freeways. The third problem is The SUV Revolution and the despicable little man who spawned it, Ronald Reagan. All President Obama has to do is tell us the truth, to tighten our belts.