This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 26, 2006.
The Toyota Motor Companyís hybrid engines are terrific machines, as reliable and powerful as advertised, and quite gas efficient. They are most efficient in the stop and go traffic of the city, where much of our pollution is produced, so it isnít just the overall mileage aspect that needs to be factored in to their estimation. Whether they get 40 or 43 mpg on the highway isnít as ecologically important as that they produce, compared to others, next to none stuck in traffic, where most vehicles are most polluting.
Toyotaís made the Prius a success and the new luxury Camrys, with the same technology, are now out as well. These hybrids, superior in many ways to rival Hondaís also impressive products, point the way towards our independent conveyance future. Should, you know, there be one.
Itís uncertain, because President Bush, obviously pressured by doomed GOP candidates for the fall election, came out yesterday with some remarkably dumb, useless, and retroactive ideas on how to fight what is shaping up to be a culture changing few years in the wake of his foreign and energy incompetence, of which the high gasoline prices are only a symptom. I canít believe anyone would think Bushís bubblehead solutions worthy. At best, his actions might, and itís not sure, save a few cents a gallon. It isnít impossible gas will be over $4 by Labor Day. Drilling in Senator Stephensí backyard nature preserves, altering ecologic processing in the refineries, will neither help fuel prices, the economy, nor the GOP. But Iím not sure the Democrats or the far left masquerading as Greens have much in the way of a solution, either. But then, Iím not convinced they want one, any more than Iím sure they want the responsibility of election and being forced to rule by their own professed beliefs.
Bushís panicked response happened right after the announcement of General Motors and Ford Motor folding tents, and it strikes me that any government of leadership would make the connection and use harsh times to speak harsh truth. And here it is.
The failure of our car manufacturers and all it represents in both jobs and industry and national prestige isnít due to inflated executive compensations, even those honestly achieved, or overpaid and increasingly obese union workers who donít live within their means. Those are just embarrassments, insulting to common sense. It really isnít health insurance issues either, although it surely hits hard in the short and long term as we grapple with new euphemisms for socialized medicine so we can pretend it isnít.
The problem is that America is no longer industrial cutting edge, and doesnít make major products of interest to itself or of value to the future. And our government is okay with that. That we arenít inventing or producing the best engineered hybrids in the world is annoying. That neither Ford nor General Motors had the brains, foresight, or competence to produce ANY hybrid tech to compare with the Japanese is incredible to me. I cannot believe it. Even Volvo has hybrid production plans superior to our vague thoughts. Volvo includes solar panels on the roof.
What is the response of America, once home to Yankee ingenuity and common sense, to the loss of our jobs, prestige, competence in these matters? Oh, half-baked hybrid SUVís and pickup trucks advertised as if they were sex toys and which donít get better mileage, somehow. Pretend innovation in the dead industry of internal combustion. Or, at least, exclusive internal combustion.
It is forgot, these days of mass advertising and product placement, that things like auto racing and, in the day, airplane racing, had a goal. Flight and, for that matter, the internal combustion engine and its variant forms, were new a hundred years ago, and those races and innovations were not restricted to bored millionaires, but accepted and encouraged amateur genius. It developed cutting edge technology and tested it in the revered private sector.
But we seem to have forgotten all that. Car races today are not cutting edge but exercises in dated, dumb, and doomed technology. Deaths on the race track or in Bumblebee aircraft once held the added gravitas that things of importance Ė lasting importance Ė were being learned. But America has changed. Itís not NAFTAís fault, its not the immigrants, itís us as we are. It turns out that Americaís supposed capitalists really arenít the solution to our future. Nor are the rest of us. Weíre fat in body and mind. Full time hypochondriacs, and timid in the face of competing technology that Americans once owned in fact and promise. Weíre content with our myths, and we donít even compete in these very basic industrial and societal needs.
Iíd be willing to bet that if an American auto race had been conceived for actual stock cars and allowed any hybrid technology but only ten gallons of regular gasoline for a race, say, of five hundred miles, weíd have had GM and Ford churning out 100 mpg product a decade ago, our energy demands would have plummeted, with remarkable effect on, say, our relations around the world today. Itís not oil company greed. Itís cultural inertia. And we should be personally embarrassed that when the idea of a car race in Colorado is revived, the title of Denver Hybrid 500 never makes the grade, so far as I know. Isn't that an idea whose time has come, though?