Earth, I love this place… I plan on sticking around. Yes, I understand that my automotive enthusiast ways are slowly destroying our home rock. I am more than willing to do my part to save the planet; I cut up my six-pack holders to protect the dolphins, own a Brita filter, give dirty looks to H2 owners and I am a Sarah McLaughlin song away from giving my life savings to homeless dogs. What I will not do, not under any circumstances, is give up my love of driving. I don’t care if Toyota introduces a 500 mpg Prius tomorrow, if it’s not fun to drive – I will not own one.
Why? For me, driving is not about transportation. Sure, I occasionally have to get somewhere, but even then – I enjoy the process. I find driving to be cathartic. It is my escape from the stresses of the world, from work, bills and… work bills. Ask a random person what they are into, there are some bizarre folks out there; skydiving, gardening, knitting, bee keeping, garden gnome collecting… to each their own. Yet, when it turns to sports cars as a hobby, people tend to lose their cool.
Now, I don’t pretend to understand the complex arguments, tables and graphs for and against hybrid & electric cars. I tried, really I did. I have pages of notes on studies, I drew charts – all to no avail. However, what I understand with perfect clarity is that I have driven “sporty” electric cars, and I don’t care to again. Simply put, the technology trumps the experience. Every variation currently available to the buying public has some Achilles heel, some extreme compromise that stops it short of being great. I will skip past the CR-Z’s of the world (just try finding one with a manual box anyway), and go straight to the crux of my issue. As a disclaimer, I have nothing but profound respect for Elon Musk, the mastermind behind Tesla Motors. I find his accomplishments to be nothing short of dazzling, and I commend his effort to rid the world of its dependency on oil. But I will not buy his product!
Sure, Tesla based their first vehicle on my beloved Lotus Elise. Given its architecture, the car certainly looks the part, but with nearly 1,000 lbs of battery under its shell, the advantage of the lightweight Lotus design is negated. What remains is a hideously uncomfortable bare bones sports car, without the raw, nimble, row your own boat appeal of the original design. To make matters worse, my local dealer has two examples currently for sale; a base Roadster for $126,000, and a Roadster Sport for an outrageous $140,000+. WHAT! The 1.6 liter Elise S retails for about 1/3rd of the price and gets an astounding 46.7 mpg! What in the world makes the Tesla more “green” than a cheaper to produce and buy, incredibly efficient car that does not include a battery formed from mined nickel? Sure, gas is horrible for the world… wars are fought over the stuff; it is difficult to get to, politically explosive, and hideously expensive. But why does this mean we must abandon the combustion engine? I find it hard to believe that science can put a man on the moon, jam every song I have ever heard onto something the size of my thumb, make Paris Hilton sing on key, and yet no one has figured out a way for my car to run on anything other than gasoline.
Imagine this: the year is 2030, you are stopped at a traffic light (brought to you by iCoke) as you spot something low and red off in the distance. It gets closer… closer… it’s the all-new Ferrari Verde. As it is nears, you don’t bother to lower your window, there is no mad dash lower the radio – no need. It passes without drama, “whoosh”…
And cut! End scene… that my friends is dangerously close to becoming the reality of our future. The horsepower wars are coming to a close, aggressive CAFÉ standard legislation is being put into motion, and sports car companies are abandoning naturally aspirated motors in favor of blown mills with manumatics and stop-start tech. The all-senses art of driving is part of the emotional pull – and the addition of technology does not mean the abandonment of soul. Who knows, the hybrid / electric sports car of tomorrow may be phenomenal? However, the glimpse we have seen through todays crop of offerings certainly suggests otherwise. For shame! I love the sound of a flat six screaming to redline, the deep rumble of large displacement motor, the fight of a lumpy cam. I love tinkering under an actual hood, admiring motors that could be removed and displayed as fine art. The transportation appliance driver of the future can have their plug-ins, may the early adapters relish in out-gigawatting the neighbors while calculating their reduced carbon footprint. Truth is, I hope that future offerings are good (and enjoyable) enough that I am compelled to join their ranks. Sadly, I think that day may be far… far away.