I recently read an article in Popular Science magazine by Dave Mosher called “Why You Can’t Sell Me A Car.”
As a self proclaimed “Millennial” Dave lists his five demands that the auto makers need to address to sell him and other people like him a new car.
- Demand 1: Lose the driver seat or at least make it optional.
- Demand 2: Don’t make me wreck the planet.
- Demand 3: Recharging an electric vehicle needs to be just as speedy and safe as pumping gas.
- Demand 4: Lobby the government to feed that grid with as much electricity from renewable and environmentally friendly sources as possible.
- Demand 5: Make cars affordable.
In his closing statement Dave tells the auto makers they don’t need to hire people to figure out what to do they just need to listen to him.
Dave pictures a futuristic world where his car will drive him to his destination while he and his children enjoy movies from the back seat. I have worked as a quality assurance engineer in software and hardware for over 20 years. One of my biggest fears is the automating of America with computers. I work everyday and see critical flaws in software that are sent out to the public with the idea of being fixed in the next patch or version. Fortunately for all of us, the auto industry is a giant dinosaur that moves slower than molasses. There is a reason that the auto industry moves slower than the technology industry. If your phone crashes, you can just turn it off and turn it on again. If your car crashes, people die. Self driving cars are being tested by Google in Northern California. If you have ever seen one, you have seen that they do actually have a driver who is paying attention to every move the car makes. Before self driving cars become the norm, there will be many more years of testing required. Regulations and requirements will have to be created and passed. Standards will have to be created, and the auto makers will have to implement the standards and then adhere to them. Realistically the self driving car that Dave dreams of is probably still 15-20 years away.
Dave would like to see his new car made out of cost effective, environmentally friendly materials. I too am concerned about the environment. I can’t put all of the blame on the auto industry. Despite our efforts to recycle, drive hybrids and have zero emissions cars, the rest of the planet is still polluting. It affects all of us. It’s hard to imagine that smogging my car does anything when I read about cities in China being closed down for weeks because of toxic smog. In the same week, fish were caught off the coast of California that had been irradiated from a nuclear accident in Japan that happened two years ago. The average person keeps their car for ten years, but changes their computer every 4 years and their cell phone every two years. Electronic waste is a much bigger problem than automobile waste. Until we can retrain ourselves to hold onto our possessions a little longer, neither problem is going to go away. The entire planet will have to get on the same page about the environment before we can do anything about it. Saving the planet is going to take lifestyle changes. We should be working on that and not forcing industries to do it for us.
Dave’s concern here is that the auto industry needs to spur the construction of a robust power grid to allow the fast charging of cars. Despite the fact that electrics, hybrids and even alternative fuel vehicles are seeing huge increases in sales, they still represent a small fraction of the vehicles on the road. The companies making these cars, with the exception of Tesla, are still making gasoline-powered cars. The robustness of the power grid and the increase of power charging stations will only keep up with the demand. Most people don’t realize that the oil industry and auto industry still view these cars as a novelty or a fad. The oil companies wouldn’t care if they disappeared entirely. Tesla Motors is committing to building super power stations around the country. I am not sure if this is only for Tesla models or if they will support all electric vehicles. My personal opinion is that the places you buy gas from will eventually offer quick charging as long as they can make a profit. One factor in getting electricity to the masses is that neither the auto industry nor the oil industry can control the price of electricity. The cost of charging a car will fluctuate as will the ability to make a profit on charging. As I mentioned before, technology moves much faster than the auto industry and they are much happier in taking a “wait and see” stance and letting pioneers like Tesla create a market for them to take over.
Dave wants the power for his electric car to come from sustainable environmentally friendly sources. The most ironic thing about driving an electric car is that the majority of electric power comes from coal. Coal is one of the worst offenders to the environment. Again, Dave is pointing his finger in the wrong direction. If you think the auto industry moves slowly, in comparison, the government is going backwards. This is a group of people who can’t pass a budget without shutting down, and you want them to work on sustainable energy? A majority of those people view solar, wind and hydroelectric energy as “hippy talk.” More than half of them won’t even admit that we have an energy crisis. Much like the recharging stations, there will have to be a significant demand from the people to get the government to react. In the mean time, we have to do what we can to show the government we want these other sources. That means buying electric cars, using less gasoline and not driving everywhere. You can walk or bike or use public transportation. Bring the dog along; it will be good exercise for both of you. A lot of people are adding solar power to their homes. It’s getting cheaper. Some solar companies will pay for the equipment and installation and then sell the power back to you at a discounted price. Kits for windmills for your home are available now too. We need to show them we are ready, willing and able to use alternative sources before the oil dries up.
Dave thinks that new cars are expensive, just wants to be able to buy a new car. When I first hit the road as a licensed driver, gas cost about 80 cents a gallon, and a new car was $9000, and the average income was $22,000 a year. Today the average gallon of gas is $3.30, a new car costs $30,000 and the average income is $51,000 a year. There are all sorts of math equations and indexes we can use. The simple answer is back then a new car was slightly less than half of your yearly income, and now it is slightly more than half of your yearly income. Even with the occasional spikes and dips, gas prices and car prices are keeping with inflation. So is the average income. I do find it funny that someone of Dave’s age would already be talking about the “good ole’ days.” Let’s not forget where we came from. The same year I got my driver’s license, a brand new VCR cost $400-$500. A brand new VHS movie to watch in that VCR cost $80-$100. The state of the art Tandy 600 “Portable Computer” with 32k of ram and a 16 line dot matrix screen cost $1600 at Radio Shack. So remember, today will always be someone else’s “good ole’ days.”
The auto makers do a good job at listening to everyone, and they have done a pretty good job of making everyone happy. You have inexpensive and easy to park mini-cars with excellent audio systems and gas mileage for the starving student. There are minivans loaded with TVs, stain-proof carpets and portable vacuums for the soccer moms. If you are a rich, single man, you can pick numerous sporty cars with lots of leather and power to help you snag a mate. Once you snag that mate, you can trade it in for a luxurious four-door sedan with dual climate control and seat warmers. Let’s not forget about the men and women that drive for a living, whether it’s in a heavy duty pickup truck or a police interceptor or numerous styles of livery vehicles. All in all there are numerous choices to fit most every demand.
So there you go, Dave. You can’t expect the automakers to be your environmental saviors and do all the dirty work for you. You can’t expect the automakers to favor any segment of buyer over another. Even if your segment is the biggest segment, it certainly isn’t the richest or loudest. I am disappointed with my generation since the Millennials are our children. I feel like we should have given them more insight on how things really work instead of over inflating their self-esteem and letting them think that demanding things was the best way to get something. Instead of just driving them from place to place, we should have spent more time giving them an appreciation of the freedom that a car provides.