Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If I talk about fuel prices, and the fact that they are insanely high, I am aware that I am probably nailing a moment in history. Looking back in a few years time, it's inevitable that the outrageous 75 quid a tank will seem laughably cheap. Or maybe we'll look back in nostalgia at the time when when cars still required petrol.

I would have liked to get an electric or a hybrid vehicle this time. But the backward looking inertia of the motor corporations mean that they are still specialist vehicles with specialist price tags. Did they not employ people a decade -two decades- ago to develop the future? Everyone knows that in business the secret is to be ahead of the game, and it's been clear for ages now that a petrol driven future is untenable. At the moment it looks like Honda might clean up with hydrogen (I am surprised Apple are not working on it - they could brand it as i-drogen) : providing that the other manufacturers don't gang together and kill their progress by any means necessary. Car companies seem always to have been resistant to innovation, even when it would clearly benefit them and their customers. Just watch that film 'Tucker'. Their default setting seems to be stuck in 'No We Can't'.

I've talked about this several times, but my new car was delivered yesterday. I was sitting in the showroom waiting for the handover and felt like I'd been whisked backwards in time to an era where CD players and mobile phones are cutting edge inventions, where air conditioning has only just been introduced as an experimental technology and electric motors to magically move the windows up and down cause the disbelieving public to behave like dogs do, when they sniff behind the TV screen trying to find the distant pooches they've just seen in the magic window. All the cars had stickers and posters declaring stuff like '4 wheels! Brakes! Lights! Windows front back AND sides!

Which is annoying but no big deal. So what if I don't have electric windows front and back, or I have to buy a phone holder as an extra?

But having no choice other than to help pollute the air and negatively impact the climate: that's not fair. I know the technology exists to make electric or hybrid vehicles. Even if it's not quite developed, I know that they've been lazy and pathetic about seeing into the future and it could have been here now.

I could walk, you might say. But disability disbars me from taking alternatives. Can't pedal a bike, can't walk to the station or to and from the bus stop. Plus the fact that I like having a car. Even when I could walk I liked the freedom of choice and movement it gave me. I liked driving along with the stereo blaring. But if I am to own a car what choice do I have but to add my helpful contribution to the rates of childhood asthma and rising sea levels? To line the pockets of the petroleum billionaires and play my part in the global war games over oil. To be a tiny cog in the machine that perpetrated genocide on the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico?

I am looking at Germany and seeing a possible model for the future. Okay, so their brave decision to shun nuclear is a combination of paranoia over safety, historical resistance (I have a sticker on my guitar case from the 1980s that says 'atomkraft nein danke!'), coalition politicking and electoral populism. But if they can cut out nuclear energy in the timescales they want, then it will set a benchmark for proactive decision making that forces an issue. I hope Germany will be become a hothouse of alternative energy supply that can set an example to the rest of the world.

The same could and should happen in the motor industry. If one single big company like Honda or Toyota switched to making only electric or hybrid vehicles, they would clean up every customer who wants to do their bit and assuage their conscience.

And it would tip the market into the future. Sometimes it needs someone to stand up and declare that the emperor's clothes are falling off.

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