Monday, December 22, 2008

No prospect for recovery

The New York Times humor section asks you to come up with a caption for this picture. I don't find anything funny about it, other than the fact that Americans have so long sneered at the idea of small, fuel sipping American cars while complaining that Detroit isn't technically adept enough to produce them. The little Nash Metropolitan was one of many failures in the era of "bigger is better" and that's an era with no signs of ending. In fact nobody makes cars big enough for us, or clumsy, or unstable enough, so we drive trucks and vans and pretend, like Governor Schwarzenegger said on 60 minutes last night, that magic technology will allow us to keep driving them and keep making them bigger.

I was waiting at a light to turn on to old Dixie Highway yesterday, top down and shades on, when a venerable Porsche 356, followed by a TR-4, followed by an XK120 rolled past in convoy making a joyful noise; tops down in the fragrant, 75 degree Florida sunshine. I had hoped to catch up with them and share the country road and the joy of life for a moment, but of course by the time the light changed, there was an SUV and then another and a van and a huge jacked up pick-up lumbering along, their timid occupants sealed in bank vault vehicles, breathing canned air and peering through their tinted windows darkly.

But of course Americans are always victims, so it's the manufacturers' fault that we hate and fear small cars and American's hate being American so it's Detroit's fault that it isn't located in Japan. Funny though, that Toyota, who also makes the same kind of misbegotten vehicles Americans crave is suffering too and so is Honda and so, it seems, is everyone else. Toyota announced after Monday's close that it expected to lose more than a billion and a half dollars in 2009 and Japan's exports are already down 26%. Spokesmen for Honda say they see no prospect for recovery. But when it does come, if it does come, won't we go back to our same old trucks with renewed lust?

So how do we convince the mothers of America that they don't need 4 ton trucks to go to the beauty parlor and that safety has a much to do with putting down the Evian and the cell phone and learning how to pick a line through a corner as it does with Gross Vehicle Weight? Does it even matter if we will have to resort to buying cars we can actually afford because we can't get credit or are out of a job? Whatever happens, the open road and the spirit of adventure and freedom are gone and those "On The Road" Dean Moriarty moments won't ever happen again if Mom and her Hummer can help it.


Buffalo said...

We learn and then do as we will with the lessons.

Baltazar said...

The last Nash had a 2 inch ground clearence.The oil pan stuck way down there.

Capt. Fogg said...

The car shared a design philosophy with the Bic lighter, I think: disposable.

The chin spoiler on a Corvette has about the same clearance. I've been known to back into driveways.

Chris said...

The good news? There's a fantastic car on the horizon! It'll go 60+ miles on a single charge, can go another 300 miles if you kick on the gas engine, can recharge itself in as little as 10 minutes when you plug it in... All this made by a startup company that made cell phone batteries -- they just started making cars five years ago, and they've already got this sedan on the market! It's a fantastic success story, and this car may very well change the way we view personal transportation.

The bad news? The company is Chinese.

You see, five years ago the Chinese government gave companies incentives to develop such technology. Now it's very possible that they will become the dominant player in the auto industry.

Five years ago our president was telling us that everything was fine, don't worry, stay the course...

My word verification is "pasta." That gives me a good idea!

Capt. Fogg said...

Tata, the Indian company that makes buses and everything else has one that runs on compressed air and has a built in compressor that can pump it back up in minutes.

The benefit is that the exhaust is clean, cold air -- free air conditioning.

One problem with electrics is that with lights and AC on that 60 mile range may be down to 5 and one uses AC almost year round here.

None of these things will have the comfort and features we're used to. If we adopt them as primary family cars, we're going to need much, much better access to public transportation - and I'm talking about trains.

Of course our friends at Harley and Davidson do make high mileage transportation, don't they and it's a damn sight more fun than any of these econo-boxes.

You can ride all year in Florida.