The New Party Line on Cars

carload Keith Crain is the publisher and editor of Automotive News. In his latest editorial, he enunciates the new capitalist party line about the pivotal issue of transportation choice.

Crain begins with what appears to be some refreshing honesty:

For starters, there is the energy crisis. In truth, there has been an energy crisis since the early 1970s, only someone finally noticed. In the United States, those who could have helped end the crisis with an intelligent energy policy stuck their heads in the sand and hoped the thing would blow over. It didn’t.

Crain, of course, neglects to mention that nobody has shoved heads down into siliconic powder harder than capitalists in general and automotive capitalists in particular.

According to Crain, all that has now ended:

When Congress finally discovered the problem, it swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. So today the world is scrambling for new ideas and products that will help reduce the use of gasoline and open up opportunities for other forms of transportation.

Everyone knows about the Toyota Prius, now in its third iteration. It was the first successful gasoline-electric hybrid. It owns that market. But there are lots of hybrids on the market, and there will be plenty more.

This is where the crucial trick of the new orthodoxy occurs: After quickly mentioning “opportunities for other forms of transportation,” Crain returns to the business class’s century-old claim that micro-choices between car models is all anybody could ever want or need:

General Motors Co.’s long-heralded Chevy Volt will be introduced to the public next year. It is an electrically driven car with a gasoline engine that generates electricity for the car’s drive motor, not unlike the Electro-Motive trains GM manufactured for decades.

Plenty of new companies are popping up. Fisker will start production of a luxury plug-in hybrid in Finland next year. The car has enough design appeal that it turns heads wherever it is tested. Fisker has received a half-billion dollars in federal funds, most of which will be used for development of a second plug-in hybrid that will be built in the United States.

More minicars are on the way. The Smart, developed by Mercedes, will be joined by the Fiat 500 in the United States. And you can rest assured that the Asians will be right behind with similar vehicles.

We’re bound to see some electric vehicles and hybrids that use diesel engines for even better fuel economy. And it won’t be long before we see two- and three-cylinder engines being used for vehicles and charging systems.

It’s an exciting time for the engineers who are developing all sorts of new engines and vehicles.

It will be even more exciting for consumers. They have never had so many choices.

What Crain neglects to mention here is the extreme danger of his own intended purpose, which is to restrict public discussion of our continuing lack of serious transportation macro-choices.  Sure, if you can spend $40,000, you might soon be able to choose a Chevy Volt.  But, especially in most American cities, when will walking, cycling, and rails gain anything like equal infrastructural footing with automotive support systems?

They won’t, barring a social movement to reform the society.  That’s because the world’s corporate overlords are deeply and systematically hostile to anything that would spoil their ability to continue selling automobiles at something like present volumes. So, particularly here in the world’s largest car market, nothing could be farther off the official agenda than providing “opportunities for other forms of transportation” to genuinely compete with cars-first transportation arrangements.

If we hope to save ourselves from impending ecotastrophe, we must resist the heavily sponsored, increasingly strident tricks of the car peddlers. Towns and cities built to favor walking and bicycling over energy-wasting machines are the only possible basis for a sustainable, progressive global civilization. Cars, due to their extreme inherent energy demands, can only be a minor part of the human future. Anybody who suggests otherwise is an enemy of your children.

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