Between the Lines: Automobile on the Future of Cars

The future is a terrible investment. Consider Tommorow- land. Disney s ode to the joys of scientific progress has been causing the Mouse conniptions ever since it opened in 1967. And no wonder. Unlike the past, the future is always changing. One minute everyone s flying around with nuclear-powered backpacks popping food pills like a Jacqueline Susann character, the next they re freight training across intelligent highways in fuel cell minivans munching on apples genetically engineered to make them pay their taxes — er, more alert. Anyway, when Automobile decided to ask a futurist for a glimpse of the road ahead for their 20th anniversary issue, the results were bound to be debatable. But who knew they d be so predictable?

The photo for Car on Demand tells us we re in for some truly demented geek speak. It s a screen shot taken from Intrago s Mobility Network Manager, an imaginary device that drivers of the future will use to plan their journeys — and the only motorists aid I ve ever seen capable of making BMW s iDrive seem intuitive. Right; it s the future calling! Time to read the lead.

What if your second car was your cell phone? What if your second car could carry fifteen people; have a V10; get 70mpg; use gas, ethanol, diesel, hydrogen, or electricity for power; tow a trailer; be a convertible; and be equally at home on freeways, off-road trails, or bike paths? What if it made the air cleaner, the roads less congested, and your wallet fatter?
NOW how much would you pay? Automobile s freelance slush fund has bought them one of the most asinine intros ever written by hand of man. C mon, it s bad enough that Verizon wants to sell me a cell phone that delivers streaming porn to my pocket (talk about not getting any work done), but now I ve got to sign-up for a cell that s also a V10-powered convertible minivan with a trailer? Call me a Luddite, but I just can t grasp the utility of a phone I can drive down a bike path. It brings to mind those Vonage ads — and they always end badly.

Of course, Dan Sturges is just messing with us. The President of Intrago (unfortunately, both entities actually exist) wants us to imagine a car share network accessed by your cell phone — ignoring the fact that the Mobility Network Manager s display screen would require 0.0006-sized font. Futurist that I am, I m jumping ahead. First, Sturges wants to establish his visionary cred. Take it away Dr. King:

I had a dream the other night that every vehicle on the road was either a hybrid or powered by fuel cells. The cars were beautiful and the technology was amazing- the only problem was that none of them were moving, trapped as they were in a massive traffic jam. I woke up realizing that simply using more fuel-efficient vehicles isn t going to do anything to relieve an overburdened infrastructure. We need a comprehensive answer that addresses efficiency as well.
Will someone please slip this man a peyote tab so he can have a proper dream? (What would Carlos Castaneda drive?) In terms of piercing glimpses into the obvious, Sturges REM-driven revelation that traffic sucks ranks somewhere below the motoring press investigative disclosure that it s best not to get rear-ended when sitting in a Ford Pinto. Anyway, Automobile s bespectacled fantasist has a plan
Imagine one million cars parked all over a city, with credit card readers molded right into the driver s door. Customers could walk up to any available vehicle, swipe their card and drive away. All of their transportation needs could be managed via cell phone. Considering that the average American car is driven only one out of every twenty-four hours, it s easy to see the efficiency of the mobility by the mile approach.
Futurists tend to be academics. Academics tend to be nerds. Nerds tend to be as oblivious to human nature as swimsuit models are to Balkan politics. Car sharing is fine in theory. In practice, most people view a community car as the automotive equivalent of a municipal toilet. (Car rental agencies use more solvents than all the teenagers in the mid-west combined.) Can you imagine swiping your credit card and entering a car that smells of piss and vomit, with used condoms squidging underfoot? There s no future in that.

With a tip of the hat to the future is closer than you think [but I wouldn t invest a plug nickel in it if I were you] Flexcar franchise, Sturges has us switching cars like Tarzan through the vines. He especially likes the idea of motorists doing half a Chinese fire drill as they enter a city, jumping from high-speed intercity automobiles into microcars or smaller vehicles in less time than it takes for a traffic light to cycle. I guess it s only a matter of time before credit card swiping is an Olympic sport. And no, Sturges is not talking about a nanocar; he s referring to the Segway!

(Yes, it s true that presently vehicles such as these, like the Segway, have struggled for traction, but remember that the bicycle was banned in Europe for five years after it was introduced.)
I ve scanned Ye Olde Internet and found no mention of a European bicycle ban; mind you, the idea of a Europe-wide ban on anything in the 1900 s is fundamentally preposterous. The only possible explanation for this uncontested nonsense is that Sturges belongs to a Visionaries are Victims support group. In any case, anyone who defends the Segway is clearly divorced from reality, and is lucky to get a dime in alimony.

To conclude, Sturges whips out the old I m right, they re all wrong motif.

While automakers continue to search for the next people s car, this future suggests that consumers will not own just one vehicle, but instead will have a fleet of cars available at their fingertips. Rather than pursuing the next Model T, perhaps the focus should be on creating the Model E mobility system.

If that s E for Ecstasy, count me in.

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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