Thursday, May 28, 2009

American Car Culture is Humming Along

In his Wonderland column in today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger accuses the Obama administration's efforts to increase automobile fuel economy standards and drive the transition to alternative energy sources of killing an important element of American culture:

When Barack Obama announced that the government will use its fist to wave onto the highways of America cars that get 39 miles to a gallon of liquefied switch grass or something, he said, "Everybody wins."

Everybody? What country has he been living in? This marks the end of the internal combustion engine as we knew it, and it is the way Americans have defined, designed and literally driven much of the nation's culture for as long as anyone can remember. Car culture is America's culture.

As the various song lyrics Henninger cites in his column illustrate, there's no question that cool, fast cars loom large in the American psyche. But Henninger grossly underestimates both the depth of the American affection for the automobile and American ingenuity if he thinks that increased fuel economy or a shift to something other than decomposed dinosaurs as an energy source will kill car culture.  In fact, his prediction is already wrong.

As evidence, consider the National Electric Drag Racing Association,  an organization dedicacted to promoting public awareness of electric vehicle (EV) performance and encouraging advances in electric vehicle technology. 

John "PlasmaBoy" Wayland,  a NEDRA member, regularly blows the doors off gas-burning muscle cars with his White Zombie, an electric-powered 1972 Dastun.


Bill Dubé, another NEDRA member, is the owner and designer of the KillaCycle, the 174-mph electric motorcycle that holds the NEDRA record as the world's fastest electric vehicle.


For sheer, street-legal automotive cool, there's the Tesla Roadster from Tesla Motors. With prices starting at around $100k it may be a bit out of range for most of us, but that doesn't disqualify it as an object of automotive lust.








For something a little closer to economic reality for most of us, GM just announced today that is has begun building the first pre-production versions of the Chevy Volt.


Aptera, a newcomer to the auto industry, offers electric and hybrid vehicles with dramatically futuristic lines that are likely to inspire drooling in 21st century car nuts.


So Daniel Henninger is just plain wrong. American car culture is still very much alive. What's under the hood will bear little resemblance to earlier incarnations, and the muscle car rumble will be replaced with a steady hum, but based on what I see, cool cars, and cool car lovers, will be a part of American culture for a very long time.