Sunday, April 24, 2005

James Howard Kunstler at the NY International Auto Show

No Problemo: Delusions Run Deep in the Easy-Motoring Economy
by James Howard Kunstler

If the Devil himself wanted to design a perfect trap for attracting morons, he couldn't have done better than this season's New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center. While I am known to be judgmental by disposition, I honestly did not set out with this notion preconceived. I arrived at it only after interacting with some of the attendees, many of whom might have passed superficially for average Americans.

Perusing the various exhibits was like being in the world's largest auto dealership, nothing more -- which is to say, it was a surprisingly dull environment. It is, after all, just a trade show. Each brand of car had its little area with half a dozen models on view. Many of them had giant wall-sized plasma TV screens that played what amounted to extended TV commercials of the kind with which we have been so constantly bombarded over the decades that they barely register anymore. But it is interesting to actually pay attention, because they uniformly send a bizarre message: You are all alone in your car in a beautiful environment.

The cars on screen are generally depicted as swooshing along gorgeous winding rural roads, with no others in sight -- just you and the open road! This is obviously an old and alluring archetypal dream, and it is also obviously at odds with the more common reality of creeping down Route 17 in Hackensack, or some ghastly highway like it, with traffic backed up at the frequent stoplights and vistas of the entropic horror of American hyper-retail amid wastelands of free parking at every compass point.

The big news here was that there was so little news from the automakers themselves. Judging from the cars on display, they apparently aim to stick with the program of the now-ubiquitous low-mileage SUV war wagons as far ahead as anyone can see -- along with the still-popular gas-hogging pickup trucks based on the same chassis as the SUVs -- and the familiar cast of luxury sedans with jazzily updated electronics. There was remarkably little recognition that the civilized world -- the motoring world -- stands at the threshold of a new era characterized by the end of cheap fuel.

Entire Column

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