Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Country That Lies to Itself: Energy and the Automobile

One theme I want to explore with you throughout 2008 is “What does it mean when a country and its people lie to itself?”

So far, I haven’t figured it out. Is it mass psychosis? Mass hypnosis? Or is it just part of our slow sleepwalk to servitude?

I can illustrate my concern using the media coverage of and debate over U.S. energy policy, specifically our need for more fuel efficient automobiles.

Over and over I hear news reports on public radio about various aspects of the topic:

4 The problems caused by polluting automobiles, including greenhouse gases and global warming.

4 The technical challenges of developing a hybrid gas and electric vehicle.

4 The technical challenges of developing a hydrogen-powered vehicle.

4 The debate over mileage standards for existing American automobiles.

4 The sky-rocketing cost of oil, now hovering around $100 per barrel.

4 The burden on the American pocketbook of paying $3 - $4 a gallon for gasoline.

4 The continuing political pressure to destroy the Alaskan wilderness to drill for oil.

4 The U.S.’s perpetual need to participate in geopolitical gamesmanship in the Middle East and the expenditure of our troops’ lives and civilian lives to smash and grab the oil supply in the region.

I could go on and on. News reporters interview policymakers, politicians, industry analysts, pundits, citizens, scientists, inventors, technicians, and others about the need for more fuel efficient vehicles and our need to get over our “addiction to oil,” as George W. Bush had the gall to say.

But it is all a lie. A totally phony issue. A mysterious someone out there thinks we’re stupid – or sleepwalking. The media, especially, is playing along with perpetuating a story about America’s inability to produce an energy efficient vehicle, specifically an electric car.

I was spurred to publish this piece finally because of the Michigan Public Radio news report that ran the last two days about a 16-year-old Michigan teenager who modified his Mazda pickup truck into an electric vehicle. The nearly-four minute story was reported by Dustin Dwyer. You can listen to a MP3 recording of the story by clicking HERE.

This story is a curious piece of news reporting. You will find that Michigan Public Radio accompanies the MP3 with a transcript of the news report on its web site. Well, sort of.

If you listen to the radio story and read the transcript, you will find that the transcript does not match Dwyer’s conversation with the teenager, Andrew Angellotti. Angellotti’s specific reference to General Motor’s production of the EV1 -- the electric vehicle that was built right here in Lansing, Michigan -- is scrubbed from the transcript that is posted on the web site.

Below is the end portion of the transcript from Dwyer’s report with the text that was omitted from the web site listed in red italics:


He drives me a couple of miles near his house, which is about an hour north of Detroit, and when we get back to, Angellotti plugs the truck back in. He says he can get 40 miles between each charge.

That's 40 miles with no gas. And he's doing it right now. Automakers say they won't have any kind of electric vehicle until 2010 at the earliest.

So I asked Angellotti, if a teenager can build an electric car in his mom's garage, why can't the big automakers like GM do it?

"GM can build an electric car," he says. "In fact, are you familiar with the EV1? (Dwyer responds, “Yeah.”) Yeah, yeah. Well, they can do it and that's a large part of the message I'm trying to send is, if a kid can build an electric car, why isn't GM doing it? They can do it. They're just not."

Of course, it's not really that simple. Angellotti's truck is not the kind of solution that would work for everyone.

He's making some big sacrifices to drive his electric truck. He spent more money on the truck to begin with. And remember he's got no heater. It takes 10 hours to get the truck fully juiced. Its top speed is 55 miles per hour. Angellotti can never take it more than 40 miles from home without recharging. And in three to five years, he'll have to shell out more money to replace his batteries.

So, really, how many of us would be willing to make those sacrifices?

As for Angellotti, he says the sacrifices he's making are worth it.

And he's already started working to convert his second electric car.


Now I can understand the transcript eliminating an interview subject’s hems and haws. But in a story about electric cars, why would Angellotti’s specific reference to the EV1 not appear in the transcript? Did Dwyer’s news story bump into an inconvenient truth?

Dwyer should know damn well that electric car technology by the automotive company pros -- not teenagers -- is already here and ready to go. No sacrifice needed by the consumer -- the sacrifice needs to experienced by the oil and auto companies, and their power-elite, super-rich owners.


Have you seen the movie sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”?

It’s available and on the video store shelf now. The title is “Who Killed the Electric Car?” An indirect sequel, if you will.

Whenever I see Al Gore’s movie I am shocked at the scientific fact that it reveals. Whenever I see “Who Killed the Electric Car” I get outraged with the further revelation and realization that we no longer need $100-a-barrel oil to run our polluting automobiles. The EV1 electric car was here and then assassinated by its own creator, General Motors.

So why are so many people in the media and other public arenas pretending that the electric car technology does not exist, here and now? The EV1 is the proof, except that General Motors literally crushed all but one EV1 that sits in the Smithsonian Institute and then reportedly sold the battery technology to Chevron. I can tell you why...but let's save that for another day.

In the meantime, view An Inconvenient Truth's "sequel" and, then, when you listen to public radio or other news broadcasts reporting about hybrid car technology, hydrogen cars, gas prices, etc., you'll get the insult to your intelligence. I do. Any smart teenager can convince you, too.

-- Rico Thomas Rico


Jon said...

I was at the Detroit auto Show last week and saw two GM electric cars. The Chevy Volt and the Saturn Flextreme. The Flextreme is apparently a rebadged Opel. Both cars have electric motors and a gas powered generator that kicks in after about 40 miles. So on a long trip you'd get about 50 miles per gallon. For the day to day commute (up to 40 miles or so) the cars are both regular plug-in electrics. The cars I saw were concepts, but I understood them to be on the production track.
There was a car called the Karma made by Fisker. A similar set-up to the GMs. Electric motor and generator.

Rico Thomas Rico said...

The posted comment did not mention the EV1 once. That's a stark oversight. I don't play-pretend. So why does GM act like they didn't launch a successful 100% electric car? And why do observers ignore it too? Sorry, the technology is there - ready, set, go. No need for phony electric/gas concept cars at the Auto Show or elsewhere. The bigger point is why are we ignoring the obvious?

Jon said...

Uh... I'm on your side. I just thought you'd be interested in incremental improvement.

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