Earth Day Plea: "Un-Pimp My Ride"


Per the usual Earth Day news cycle, press releases flash prototypes as a branding tool. Typical of this, Honda Motor Co. announced a natural gas powered vehicle, with its own home refueling machine.

Honda has offered its Honda Civic GX sedan to California fleet operators for some time, and estimates there are 7,000 of the natural gas-powered vehicles on the road. "But this will be the first time consumers can buy the vehicle in a dealership and lease a home refueling machine", reports one newspaper.Apparently the leasable natural gas "Phill" appliance, by FuelMaker Corp., lets you refuel at home from the natural gas supply line. The natgas fueled Honda GX starts around 22K and the Phil [up] machine costs more to lease, then there's the gas itself, reputed to be less per mile to use than normal gasoline. But wait. California only?

Nice prototype. Nice Earth Day PR. I like the idea of entrepreneurs customizing their cars to the hearts' content. The next fad could well be "green my car" (GMC). But where's the affordable new green car option? That's what some TreeHuggers are looking for.

Having recently launched into a vehicle shopping expedition of my own, it's a pretty steep slope for those who: live outside California; can't afford a $25,000- $32,000 hybrid, and need a 5 seater.

Since the first Earth Day, the amount of horsepower offered in many models has more than doubled, and few offer manual transmissions. For models that have a manual option on the spec sheet, few dealers stock them. Cars with big engines weigh more and get far less mileage. For the ICE powered cars, no one "needs" 6 cylinders for commuting at an average 45mph, yet that's all there is on most models over 4 seats and on many of the 4 seaters. What happened?

Turn Back the Clock: -- My Honda CVCC Wagon from the 1970's, bought a few years following the first Earth Day, had around 90 Horsepower, a manual transmission, five seats, got mileage in the 30's, and was affordable for a young person on a starting salary.

Given that today's average engines are, pound for pound, far more efficient than the one in my 1970's oil-shortage-busting Honda, imagine how efficient a basic model could get with a well designed four-banger and a manual transmission? Permanently (not with computerized cylinder skipping) dropping a few cylinders also shaves a couple of grand off the list price and cuts more weight.

Not to point the finger just at Honda with these examples, because every brand sold in the US currently "pimps the ride" with un-needed gas-sucking horsepower and ornamentation. Tell me again how that "spoiler" helps under 125mph?

The reason we got to this, in three decades following ED-1, is a marketing environment where our attention is demanded with "performance" features that compete for consumer dollars. Every car is designed as a showroom advertisement for itself, and horsepower is the foundation for it all. More horsepower, more weight, wasted gas. Its that simple.

We'll know that car makers are really serious about greening the fleet when we get the low horsepower, affordable-for-the-average-person models on sales lots and in showrooms across the nation.

Un-pimp the rides. That's what we TreeHuggers want for starters.

Tags: Earth Day

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