Leno and the ‘Lectric Car

Popular Mechanics: Jay Leno: American Cars Are Poised For a Comeback

It’s fun to see engineers running car companies again, rather than accountants. GM has real engineers in place now, like Mark Reuss, its new U.S. president, and Tom Stephens, who’s in charge of GM’s global product operations. These gearheads are now calling the shots. That’ll help the turnaround.

And there are already imitators, like the upscale Fisker, which essentially uses a Volt-style powertrain but in a fancy body style. That sort of technology will be the way to go. In the 1900s, people believed electricity was the best way to power an automobile. It was quiet; there was no pollution compared to horses dumping manure; you could park one indoors without suffocating anybody. You just couldn’t go very far.

The other thing that killed the electric car the first time around—and most people don’t know this—is that women loved them. You could just get in it; there was no hand-cranking.

You simply stepped on the pedal and away you went. Clara Ford, Henry Ford’s wife, wouldn’t drive a Model T. She drove a Baker Electric. So, EVs had fancy interiors with cut-glass flower vases. And, like today, you can’t sell a man a woman’s car.

Hybrids have a similar image: “You got a speeding ticket in a Prius—what’s funnier than that?” That was the big joke when those cars first came out. But the Tesla Roadster, which can hit 125 mph, helps to dispel that.

The last days of old technology will always beat the first days of new technology. At the Isle of Man TT races, where they’ve raced motorcycles for over 100 years, they now have electric bike races. Instead of doing 128-mph laps, the e-bikes lap at 85 mph. Of course, some of them drain the batteries in one lap, but they’re getting there.

Vintage Hemi ’Cudas and GTOs that get, like, 9 mpg will become the motorized toys of the new millennium. You’ll have fun with them on weekends. But during the week, you’ll drive your little electric whatever-it-is to and from wherever you work or shop.

An interesting piece from the much-recently-maligned Leno, known almost as much for his love for automobiles as for the jokes he tells at 11:35 p.m. on NBC.  (Again.)  Our own Brad Fregger covered the same subject in a different way in his debut piece here at America’s Right back in December, a piece which was bookended by a terrible interview by myself.

I find the whole thing compelling, especially the part in which Leno writes about the GTO kept in the garage until the weekend.  I’m a muscle car guy, and I look forward to the day where I have the means to have a big ole’ American beast in my driveway again.

As we look toward a summer in which I truly believe that $4-per-gallon gasoline will be back (though this time without the accompanying bad press for the White House), the need for fuel economy is going to become a reality for many Americans.  And so long as the government quits injecting itself into the automobile industry through increased CAFE standards–and selling GM and Chrysler would be nice, too–I’m just fine with people making their own decisions when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B.

We own two vehicles.  My daily driver, a far cry from the super fast 1984 Recaro Edition Pontiac Trans-Am I still dream about, is an eight-year-old minivan with 90,000 miles on it.  I’ve grown out of the need for a flashy or unique car and, frankly, as a big guy I really like the extra space and the gigantic sunroof.  Plus, it’s completely paid for, which is the best feature about it.  Joanna’s daily driver is a 2008 Hyundai Elantra.  She stole it from me.  It’s small, it’s relatively “zippy,” it has a nice interior, it was built in the United States by non-union American workers, and it gets about 36 miles per gallon on the highway and is almost as stingy on fuel usage around town.  For us, one car gets much better gas mileage than the other, and it’s a consideration with regard to what gets the most use.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with an auto industry looking at fuel economy as a priority, and if the American automakers can get out in front of that fundamental shift in focus and offer–for lack of a better description–some gas-pump-friendly vehicles with balls, more power to them.  I’ve already been impressed with the latest offerings from Ford and even some of the newer models from GM — I just won’t be driving any because I don’t have the money for a Ford, and I will never buy a GM vehicle while the company is owned by the federal government.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting take from Leno.  I liked the historical perspective.  Take a look and see for yourself.



  1. Gail B. says:

    It’s good to have Leno back at 11:35, and it’ll be good to have the cars back, too.

    Had to laugh at my own self–this piece reminded me:

    I learned to drive a straight shift and then went to the automatic transmission. Once I learned how to drive an 18-wheeler, though, and to double-clutch, well, now I can’t drive a straight shift without double-clutching. (I even learned how to shift through the gears on a big truck without the clutch except to get out of low gear…shifting up the gears or down. I don’t do that with a four-wheeler, however, because my daddy told me NEVER to do that!))

  2. Anonymous says:

    Heck, let’s all go back to horses. That and a 69 Road Runner (hemi) in my garage would suit me just fine.

  3. William A. Rose says:

    Those Tesla Roadsters are the only cool looking electric car on the planet. I think they are way too high priced, but that’s just driven by human greed.

    They have a sedan too.

    We have the technology to totally do away with internal combustion engines. It’s just not pushed because of the “black gold”.

    An electric motor can generate enough torque to shred tires right off the wheel. And their torque is 100% instantly, and through all RPM ranges. The motors on the Tesla Roadster turn at around 13K RPM. That’s an insanely high RPM.

    Maybe the treehuggers will decide that the Tesla cars are too expensive and do their lobbying and whatyever else the whackos do and get the government to take over the company. Then, we can all have an electric car!!! Hahahahahaha. I would say it could never happen, but, well, we know better.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Super death traps unless our 18 wheeler rigs are tiny-ized.
    Every other vehicle on I40 is an 18 wheeler.
    EMT’s are gonna be reallllllll busy.
    See that three wheeler electric coming out? Looks like a gnat.
    I grew up in the age of MOPAR and this is pathetic.

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