A Car Called Utopia

Green has been coopted as the new black. And the race is on to find “sustainable” means to travel more efficiently, quickly, and quietly along the earth’s surface. For a world increasingly hooked on speed and mobility, visions of utopia seem to be appearing in the shape of mass-producible compact cars powered by alternative — or cheaper — fuel sources.

BBC reports today that Honda of Japan is set to produce the first zero-emission, hydrogen-powered car. Branded FCX Clarity, the four-seater will run on fuel cells powered by hydrogen and electricity.

In the past six months, we’ve read about: the LIFEcar, a gorgeous, lightweight hydrogen-powered sports car being developed by UK’s Morgan Motor Co.; India’s Tata Nano aka “the people’s car”: high on fuel efficiency and low on emissions at a price tag of $2,500; and American GM’s ethanol-ready flexfuel engine. Lots more to come.

What do these have in common?

Aside from potentially smaller carbon footprints, these models of utopia have NOT changed much from Ford’s original Model T in 1908. They’re mass-produced wheeled units that can transport a family of passengers, have some type of protective and stylized exterior, and carry their own motors that run on some type of fuel.

Ford’s goal then was to get as many of these into as many consumer households. This launched the U.S. auto industry, but also led to the demise of U.S. railroads, i.e., collective forms of transportation.

No doubt, there is a need for these individual traveling units we call cars. But I hope we also start to see energy solutions for collective transportation systems.

The future, to me, lies in hybrid public-private people-movers that rethink the physics of movement, balance, and speed — perhaps a flex-form vehicle that combines and extends beyond the Getty Museum’s monorail, Dean Kamen’s segway, the batmobile, a sailboat, and a tandem bike. Not much to ask! Till then…

flintstone

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