Posted on March 27th, 2010 No comments
The Daily Telegraph says a lot of good things and stupid things. This one falls into the latter category:
Look, I love Top Gear but it’s a TV show and all which that implies. It’s sometimes silly and shallow. It’s sometimes quite stupid. It is however, frequently entertaining, something which more TV shows could look into.
And with all that said, Top Gear isn’t the problem. It’s “motorsports” which are the problem. Let’s be realistic. Motorsports are defined as sports with motors in them, and by that I mean, gasoline motors, often, large, loud, polluting, fuel inefficient motors. It’s the way the genre has been defined for generations. Top Gear is hardly to blame for this.
And while I’ll leave the main blame laying to others I’ll tell you who I think is also to blame for this, many of us eco-driving warriors, that’s who.
Look, cars, motorcycles and the lot are fun. They are. You can do all sorts of exciting things with them and people do. They drive them in circles really fast. They drive over exciting and challenging dirt surfaces. They drive them in marathons. They crash them into each other. They do things with vehicles that are exciting, for many people, to watch.
What have we, the alt-car crowd come up?
Seriously. That’s our contribution to motorsports.
Why aren’t having fun with fuel efficient cars? Why aren’t coming up with exciting new ways to compete in vehicles that aren’t necessarily wasting inordinate amounts of fuel and creating enormous clouds of oil tinged pollution? What have we done to change the existing paradigm? Nothing. Well, very little.
It’s partially our fault the public thinks fuel efficient cars (and EVs and electric scooters…) are boring because that’s all we shown them. We can drive them slow, we can compete saving fuel. Chess is exciting in comparison. And don’t get me wrong, MPG Challenges are fun (for some of us). I’ve been to more than a few but frankly, it’s never going to be a widespread phenomena and for good reason.
It is incumbent upon us, the fuel efficient, low pollution devotees to come up with something less environmentally disastrous than the Daytona 500 and slightly more exciting than watching corn grow. I think we can do it if we try.
One of the most fun things I saw at the Tour del Sol in 2006 was the autocross competition amongst the vehicles there (EV’s, biodiesel, hybrids and whatnot). That was fun. It was relatively low impact and it was a chance to use those vehicles in ways most people never consider. Why aren’t we, we being the green car community, doing more things like that? Why aren’t we sponsoring efficiency contests that not only reward MPG but add in a real life element, time. If all you are doing is managing your MPG chances are, you’re a road hazard. However, if you had to do that and stay within a realistic time bracket, suddenly your skills must be a bit more attuned to, dare I suggest, the real world? The world most people live in? I’d like to see more rally style competitions where timing and efficiency are the point. Rewarding only efficiency is too narrow. There’s no reason why we can’t organize fun rallies that aren’t tortoise versus tortoise competitions. Car clubs do it all the time.
And I don’t mean to limit these competitions by other traditional definitions. Why doesn’t a car company who is often proud that so many of their older vehicles are on the road honor that more tangibly? Yes, building a great car is the main point but again, we’re talking about changing paradigms here. For most of my life I was a devoted Volvo owner (until I bought my very first new car, my 2005 Prius). Volvo has a wonderful program whereby they send very nicely done metal plaques to owners of Volvo who have clocked over 100,000 miles. They also do it for 250K and 500K. What a great program, rewarding and recognized longevity. And while this isn’t exactly related to what I am discussing here, it is outside the “norm” when we think about cars. It’s this kind of thinking that we need to engage in.
I’ve always wanted to put one of these logos on my Prius. Why? Well, I love the idea that TRD isn’t just about bigger, louder, faster. I love the idea that anything can be “raced”. A great driver can compete, in any number of ways, in any vehicle. So yes, right now I love the TRD logo that isn’t (but should be) on my Prius because it’s kind of ridiculous. But I also love it for what it could represent, a rebellion against the louder, faster, bigger and towards something else. A whole new definition of performance that isn’t so narrowly defined.
Which brings me to the final bit of finger-pointing, I’m going lay part of the blame one other place. The car companies. All of them. They spend tens of millions of dollars supporting motorsports as they exist now. They have, as much as anyone else, created the paradigm that bigger, louder, faster and gas-hoggier is better. It’s time they diverted a small amount of that money in a different direction. It’s time for, especially the companies for whom fuel efficiency is a major selling point (Yes, my dear friends in Torrance, I’m talking to you) to invest some small part of what they pump into F1, NASCAR and all the rest helping to build a new paradigm. A paradigm which, I would hasten top point out, supports their long term business model much better than NASCAR or Formula One. This won’t be changed overnight. It will take decades but now is the time to help the pioneers reshape the perception of the personal transportation device, help people who are trying to reframe the conversation away from horsepower and torque to one where agility, efficiency and versatility are more important. You can do it. After all, you built the existing motorsports model. Imagine in fifty years people looking back with a whole new view of “motorsports” and seeing what we could do today as groundbreaking. Now that’s exciting. If we do it.