Friday, November 26, 2010

Only Voltron Can Save Us Now

The electric car has finally arrived.

In the next few months you’ll start seeing commercials for the Nissan Leaf, a vehicle whose future owners better damn well remember to plug in their cars at night, lest they be stranded when they get up the next morning.

The Leaf rolls on for 100 miles or so without needing gasoline. But then you’re done. It has no internal combustion back-up, and, therefore, virtually no chance of competing with the Chevy Volt, even though it will be about $7000 cheaper.

The Volt has a back-up gasoline engine, which the EPA expects to get a not-too-shabby 37 mpg on the highway. This is helpful, since the battery will only last about 40 miles. I’ve seen driveways longer than that.

But if you’re looking for measurable progress toward curing our “addiction to oil,” you have to feel encouraged. Even skeptics estimate that, based on today’s electricity and fuel prices, not having to buy gasoline will offset the higher sticker prices for these cars.

In other words, we’ve finally reached the point when an electric car costs about the same as an equivalent gasoline car, barring unforeseen engineering setbacks, such as battery explosions that could be seen from the moon.

Marketing remains the only remaining obstacle. All hope for consumer demand and future innovations in this area revolve around people actually wanting these two cars.

We’re not off to a great start here. The names do not exactly inspire confidence.

Cars represent freedom, power, and status. This is why the mini-van, and eventually the SUV, replaced the station wagon, even though the station wagon is way safer and more functional for the vast majority of consumers. But a station wagon isn’t going to climb some remote mesa in Utah, which Americans must do at least once a week, judging by Jeep commercials.

The “Leaf?” Come on.

Do we want a car that gets eaten by caterpillars? That some seven-year-old girl is pressing in a book for an art project? That is covering some Biblical character’s genitals?

No. We want a car like Chuck Norris, only less mechanical.

The Leaf is not this car. It looks like a Prius with love handles and a saggy rear end.

The name “Volt,” on the other hand, invokes power and coolness, as if you cannot possibly drive the car without wearing sunglasses. Its sharp and sporty design follows suit.

The name also reminds me of the cartoon “Voltron: Defender of the Universe,” which I used to watch when I was a wee lad. I barely remember it, but I know it involved five robotic lions from the planet Arus. The lions. each piloted by a brave and helpfully stereotyped “space explorer,” would fuse together, always at just at the right moment, to form a giant mega-robot named Voltron that would fight evil and stuff.

Wouldn’t you want to drive a car that could become the left ankle of a force of justice for the entire galaxy? I know I’d pay an extra few thousand on a down payment for that, especially considering today’s gas prices.

The only problem with the name “Volt” is that it has the word “Chevrolet” in front of it. The public has about as much confidence in GM’s ability to make a decent car as it has in Sarah Palin’s ability to reach the “Tournament of Champions” on Jeopardy.

So there you have it. The next major step in curbing greenhouse gases and reducing our dependence on foreign oil rests in the hands of a company so incompetent the government had to buy it out.

Bicycle, anyone?

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