Nothing earth shaking in this article, but it was pusblished mainstream
By Ann McFeatters
Let’s talk about one of our favorite things: cars. And more
specifically, how the internal combustion engine is on the verge of
Not only that, but we’re also being told that in five years we’re going
to be driving self-driving cars. OK, that’s not accurate. They will be
driving us — or at least some of us.
Unless you were at the beach and had your head buried in the sand
because of worries about Russia’s determination to wipe out democracy on
the planet, you undoubtedly heard that Volvo will stop making cars that
run solely on gasoline.
Volvo announced that starting in 2019 all new models it introduces will
be either hybrids or vehicles powered by batteries. While the new
electric cars will initially be made in China, where air pollution is
critically dangerous, a new plant is being built near Charleston, S.C.,
and some will be built in Europe.
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Tesla, the posh electric carmaker, plans to sell hundreds of thousands
of new electric models priced at “only” $35,000, which is substantially
less expensive than most of the flashy vehicles it currently sells. The
new cars will be serviced at 250 centers that don’t charge service fees!
If you live too far from a service center, Tesla will send one of its
350 special vans to your home or office to repair your vehicle on site!
The vans will have toys for children, espresso machines and, you won’t
believe this, replacement parts. I know. I know. Except for the sticker
shock, it seems like heaven.
Tesla, which makes nowhere near the number of cars that Ford and General
Motors produce, earlier this year beat the two auto behemoths in stock
market value because investors think the future is in electric vehicles.
Part of this is urban congestion and part of it is climate change —
carbon dioxide from burning gasoline depletes the ozone layer, playing
havoc with climate patterns around the globe.
Ann Arbor, Mich., where I once lived, is described by The New York Times
as the new hub for research into “autonomous vehicles.” Reporter Neal
Boudette wrote: “Soon students and staff members at the University of
Michigan will be able to get around the engineering campus on fully
automated, driverless shuttle buses provided by a French company drawn
to Ann Arbor by the university’s autonomous-car test track, known as
Imagine, parents. You can pay $59,784 a year for your beloved child to
ride in circles around MCity.
In Pittsburgh, The National Robotics Engineering Center is working on
self-driving vehicles. Sorry, students. Robots preferred.
As usual in this country, these developments are controversial. Despite
predictions that most new models produced in five to 10 years will be
self-drivers, there are many who scoff at that. A lot of safety issues
still have to be resolved. And a lot of us like to drive, although the
self-parking part is very neat. (Why do so many men stop and smirk when
a woman driver is parallel parking, even if she could be Danica
There are also many who think electric cars are not the wave of the
future in the United States. For one thing, hybrid cars (gasoline plus
electricity) still constitute only 2 percent of sales. That’s partly
because we love our big SUVs, and the price of gasoline has been
declining. Also, we don’t like to wait for lengthy charging times, and
public charging stations are scarce. And we are used to driving long
distances; electric cars don’t go much beyond 200 miles on a single
But every major carmaker is investing in these technologies. The federal
government has provided incentives to buy a $35,000 battery-operated
Chevrolet Bolt, for example. The Obama administration actively
encouraged the production of electric vehicles.
Actually, self-driving vehicles and electric cars are sort of connected.
Apparently, it is easier to link self-driving software to batteries than
to internal combustion engines. Who knew?
In Europe, grim statistics on health damage from diesel engines are
sparking electric vehicle sales. One unknown in the U.S. is whether
federal fuel mileage standards and pollution goals will be weakened as
the current administration seeks to do. If so, this could dampen
enthusiasm for cars that meet stricter health and environmental
But not for long. The future is coming, and it’s bringing more power
cords and fewer smirks.
©,2017 Tribune News Service
Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since
1986. Her email address is amcfeatt...@nationalpress.com.
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