Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Vroom Vroom

If we had to start from scratch and invent the automobile today, would we seriously consider powering the damn thing with one of the most volatile and combustible fuels known to man? A fuel which, in order to produce propulsion, depends on detonating several explosions every second inside a steel box? A fuel which bursts into flames during transportation if exposed to a spark or a collision? A fuel whose unburned residue pollutes our world and endangers global climate patterns?  No, Pi doesn’t think so either.

Nor, it appears, did many of the people who tried to reinvent the car from the start. A century ago, the internal combustion engine was in competition with steam-driven and electric propulsion systems. The battery-electric cars now being brought to market can look back to a long line of similar experiments.

In early 1920s America, there were dozens of manufacturers turning out electric cars. They were quiet, efficient and reliable. Above all, their ready-to-go power source avoided all that irksome hand-cranking that petrol cars needed. (That all changed with the invention of key-start ignition).

But the battery power enthusiasts were not finished. Soon after World War II, Kish Industries of Lansing, Mich. developed the ‘Nu Klea Starlite’, with a futuristic clear bubble top, which was to run at 40 miles an hour for up to 40 miles on one charge to its lead acid batteries. The world was not set aflame, and the enterprise was abandoned in 1965.

Not to be deterred, the Henney Motor Company introduced its ‘Kilowatt’ in 1959, based on the body of a Renault Dauphine. Electric Fuel Propulsion in Michigan followed with their ‘MARS I’ and ‘MARS II’ Renault-based hybrids.  1967 gave the world an added incentive to ‘drive electric’ by installing fast-charge recharge stations at all the Holiday Inns between Chicago and Detroit.

Then came the CitiCar, an electric car which Sebring Vanguard of Florida was selling in the mid-1970s. Their two-seater was uncharitably described as “a golf cart with a horn”.  Even enthusiasts of battery-powered automotion confessed that the driving experience felt “primitive”. (One aficionado actually said he enjoyed the startled looks on bystanders’ faces when his electric car sidled past them in almost total silence).

And that’s the problem. People driving their cars enjoy the feeling they get from fast acceleration, throbbing motors, and those thrilling vroom vroom noises. We seem addicted to the growling sound-effects provided by the internal combustion engine.  Deep down, near-silent electric engines just don’t sound macho enough.

“Oh, is that all?”, said the electrical engineers. “Fine, we’ll program the car’s software with a choice of engine roars, like ringtones on your cellphone!”.

Umm… Guys, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: USA / North America Product – Consumer Products