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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sales

I Missed the Vroom!

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Starting in 1995, I’ve wanted to purchase an all-electric vehicle.

That’s when I first became aware of the work of Stan Ovshinsky. Compared to Edison by his obituary in The New York Times, Stan died with over 400 patents across multiple disciplines. With a compelling life story, Stan was an extraordinary Anthropocean. His nickel metal hydride battery was instrumental to the creation and production of GM’s EV-1, a vehicle that went from 0 to 60 in about 6 seconds. As chronicled in Who Killed the Electric Car, a documentary film about the rise and venomous destruction of the EV-1 by General Motors, what happened to Stan’s work is another tragic example of the fate suffered by many thousands of visionaries whose character and accomplishments are and will be largely forgotten by history. Boy, could we use people like him now!

It was an honor to be his friend.

Stan and me. Photo: Michael Yacavone

The demise of the EV-1 left me without an electric car hope until 2008 when I started reading about Tesla. It took me a while to work up the nerve to purchase this new vehicle. It was expensive; it wasn’t clear that the company would survive; its founder was/is a polymath and a nut.

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2019 made my decision. At a dinner party, I met some Tesla owners: a Canadian couple who had already owned two of the vehicles and a beefy guy with gray hair and a big smile. My conversations led to action.

A lot of parents should only love their kids as much as the Two-Timers love their Teslas! They'd driven their car from Montreal to Florida. Even before the ongoing build-out of Tesla’s current 25,000 superchargers worldwide, they dismissed any concerns that one would run out of power on the road with a wave of the hand. They glowed when describing the ride and the car’s acceleration. They waxed poetically about the scope of the windshields. I felt like I was talking to salespeople at a service center, but they were only speaking as happy customers. My partner and I listened very closely to their “presentation.” It moved us closer to the purchase.

Mr. Beefy spoke almost as extravagantly about his experience as the couple. The coolness of the interior. The automaticity of electronics and technology. The pride he took in being an early adopter. But, there was one key difference in his commentary:

"To tell you the truth, I just traded my Tesla in for a BMW CS. The Tesla is a great, great car, but I missed the vroom! I just have to have that sound of the car’s power! I love that, live for it!" (Paraphrase) [1]

Being a person who’s been trying to get off the internal combustion engine and gasoline power for 30 years, Mr. Beefy did an excellent job of reminding me that I didn’t want to be him. I do not miss the vroom. I want to be a long-termer, someone for whom the future is as important as the present. I want the Anthropocene to be a safe place. I don’t want Earth to repeat Venus’ experience. I bought a Tesla.

Venus was once habitable. Now, not so much. What happened: Climate Change Photo: NASA

A lot of people “live for the vroom.” Let me guesstimate their numbers in the US:

Of course, not every driver has a psychological identification with muscular-sounding vehicles. But do not count them out. There is one whole heck-of-a-lot! For example, there are 425 commercial drag strips and hundreds of oval race tracks.

I can’t validate it, but my guess is that we’re talking about 2,000,000 hard-core muscle car, truck, and motorcycle guys.

And, of course, since charts and lists can be boring, there’s the experience we all have of everyday aggressive drivers doing crazy and dangerous stuff. That’s twice the number of people in Wyoming.

In other words, a lot of people are going to miss the Vroom.

Take a little time to look at this ten-minute clip taken by road drivers in somewhat common vehicles demonstrating just how much the Vroom means to them. They are, obviously, risking their lives, that of those that are in the car with them, anyone they might injure or kill through accidents, etc. Are they worried? Absolutely not! They are having the time of their lives! In the clips, their girlfriends – because they’re mostly guys – are super-turned on. And they love capturing their machismo on video for whatever little bit of posterity they may get to enjoy as much as the folks who stormed the Capitol on January 6th.

Flash forward to 2035. California recently announced that it will ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles beginning 13 years from now.

The Oakland Bridge at Rush Hour

California’s approximately 33,000,000 gas-powered vehicles consumed 14 billion gallons of gasoline in 2021. It is the US’ largest car market.

Forgetting about the Vroom for a minute, consider how many millions of people are directly and indirectly tied into the fossil fuel transportation system in this one state right now. How in the name of everything having to do with the Gaia, are we going to deal with the dislocation they are going to go through to switch over to alternative energy? What are their reactions to that dislocation going to do to all of us who are already sold on the vision of a green and circular economy?!

As I write, the Federal Reserve Commissions Chair, Jerome Powell, has re-iterate the FED’s intention to fight inflation. The US is headed into recession. “Households will feel some pain.” 300 talking heads mentioned “soft landing.” The stock market dropped by 1,100 points.

If today’s economy is challenging to manage, imagine one where millions and millions of people are going to go through multiple wrenching social shifts be like? Vehicular transformation is only one.

Diehards are particularly wedded to the past.

Is it possible to alter the behavior and maybe even the values of men who are totally absorbed in their rides?

What are we to do with the men (and some women) who cannot imagine themselves without their hot rods?

I don’t have good answers to my questions, which is one reason the Anthropocene is so up for grabs. There are so many unknown unknowns.

I was reminded reminded that kids put cards on their bike wheels to create noise. Maybe that can be adopted by EV manufacturers?! I heard that an electric car company is coming up with an acceleration noise that’ll be graded to sound like the gas-power vroom. Legislation outlawing making EVs noisy is surely in motion. Maybe intern the Vroomers at an enormous race track in Mississippi like we did with tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during WWII?! (Not a serious proposal.) Perhaps when noisy fast cars are outlawed, only outlaws will have noisy fast cars?!

I’d call those ideas quintessentially short-term fixes.

How about this:

Green-focused education at every level of schooling starting now! I don’t know the average age of the masculine muscle car or truck romantic today, but let’s say it’s 32. Those who don’t die as a result of their recklessness will be 45 in 2035. Let’s also assume that the average age of kids in Pre-K to 12 at all schools is presently 10. They’ll be 23 in 2035. Assume that the young people in school now get a thorough education about climate change. Assume that any parents who thinks that climate change is a hoax will be unable to shape local school education policy, that the denial of climate change will be roundly and repeatedly repudiated and mocked in 95% of the media and that the teaching of climate change denial will not be allowed in public schools. What difference would it make in the thinking, norms, and behaviors of these young people who will be entering adulthood in 2035? Probably a lot.

There are multiple climate change resources available for educators, including for the very young.

But education - and public education, in particular - is needed to achieve the transformation in societal consciousness. Of course, given the degree to which the teaching of climate science is such a polarizing and politicized topic, it’s a lot to assume that climate change denial will no longer be tolerated in certified educational settings by 2035, but hey, it could happen!

Without focused, redundant, omnipresent, and well-funded climate education, intensive civil strife over a changeover to renewable and alternative energies is completely predictable. Since a polycrisis of problems with climate change as one of the key drivers is not going away, conflict over the push to make the shift to a green economy makes the imposition of a severe – and probably stupidly bureaucratic – environmental dictatorship becomes increasingly likely.

More about that speculation subsequently.

[1] The CS is the most powerful car in BMW's M division’s history. The current model features a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 engine uprated to produce 635 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. It gets approximately 17 mpg.

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