The Ultimate Driving Distraction: Electric Cars
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
This past week Ford Motor Company's president and CEO Alan Mulally gave the opening keynote speech at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The purpose of the presentation was to unveil an entire suite of new SYNC signature brand in-car innovations.
While the technology is undeniably exciting and amazing, it was darkly ironic given the amount of commotion that is currently going on around the country to try and eliminate driving distractions. If you think that the use of cell phones and texting has already created a safety problem, then you’re going to be shocked by what Ford now has in mind. Mr. Mulally actually seemed to champion and encourage the use of texting while driving when he rather gleefully announced that texting is now the favored form of communication for every age group, within his description of Fords success in putting more than a million SYNC-equipped cars on American roads in 2009.
Incidentally, Ford wasn’t alone in exhibiting new dashboard distractions at CES; Kia showcased an elaborate Microsoft in-car multimedia system called UYO (which somehow stands for Your Voice), along with about 300 other in-vehicle exhibitors touting their own innovative products.
However the real driving distractions, the ULTIMATE DRIVING DISTRACTION if you will, is not caused by these new tech add-ons diverting our collective attention from what’s on the road ahead of us, but instead we're being distracted from what we are driving on the road.
Firstly, there’s the issue of better fuel economy in all sizes and categories of vehicles. You would think that if automotive scientists can solve the eternally vexing problem of how to deliver clear satellite television programming to a moving car that they could figure out how to deliver a full line of automobiles that deliver great gasoline mileage without any deadly emissions. This is really a much more urgent need than finding a new way to ask your hommies, “Wht Up?”
Secondly, and this will really become evident this week at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, all the noise about electric cars is distracting us from finding viable near term solutions to the gasoline mess. There will be talk of electric, but we will only see gasoline.
A generation ago (with reverberations that have lasted until today) electric car aficionados were quick to latch on to the conspiracy idea that General Motors purposely killed the EV1 because it was too good, made too much sense, and/or threatened the mammoth good-old boy oil interests. And no matter how hard GM has tried, they and various other affiliated entities have not been able to shake off the criticism. Well now we have a situation where GM seems to be on the verge of really launching the electric car generation with its introduction of the Chevrolet Volt. And hot on the heels of the Volt is Nissan’s Leaf, Fisker’s Karma, the Tesla vehicles (one of which is already on the market), and then a whole slough of other highway-capable models from major and minor automakers.
The problem is that the Volt and the Leaf (and because of high cost and limited production capabilities Fisker and Tesla) will be produced and available in such small quantities that it will be meaningless. At the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, held last month, GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told an audience of journalists that production (not delivery) will begin in late 2010 with the first vehicles going to public utilities for testing. Whether Rick Wagoner, GM's former top kick, made this specific information publicly known is unclear, since there was so much general hype about the car, but certainly the impression was continually fostered that the Volt would be in the hands of consumers and on the road by the end of 2010.
Moreover, Lutz then revealed that only a few thousand will be produced within the first year and that production, when ramped up in later years, will only amount to several thousand per year. Let’s say Nissan, Fisker and Tesla gives us the same. By the end of the decade when we have 300 million-plus vehicles on America's roads less than one percent of them will be electrically powered (non hybrid).
To make matters worse, Ford has publicly stated that electric cars will not be a significant force until well into the next decade, while Volkswagen/Audi has put the electric vehicle timeline into the 2030s or even 2040s. These opinions have been seconded by a few different outside consulting firms. This basically means that we are a generation away from breaking the foreign oil addiction, if it ever happens.
So why is this the ultimate driving distraction? Because we have other solutions to the gasoline problem that could be employed, NOW. We have CNG (compressed natural gas); we have propane; and we have alcohol (ethanol). They are all produced here in America, they are abundant, they are less expensive, and they are far less polluting than gasoline. But none of these three options are being used, even though almost all of the same major carmakers are producing and selling vehicles capable of using these fuels in other countries. We’re being fed lies about the effectiveness of these fuels and the government is dragging their feet in removing regulations that would permit wide spread adoption. We are victims of alternative energy sleight-of-hand, the ultimate driving distraction.