Thursday, June 12, 2008

Step on the gas

In idle times this week, I have volleyed between surfing for a hybrid (to replace my hyper-consumption Landcruiser) and reading Natural Capitalism. It's a cerebral paradox; the latter read, in the form of environmental guilt, gas-at-$4.50-plus-a-gallon remorse, and plain common sense, feeds the former four-wheel reality.

Natural Capitalism engages readers to imagine an entrepreneurial conversation that took place at the end of the nineteenth century ... A group of powerful and farseeing businessmen announce that they want to create a giant new industry in the United States, one that will employ millions of people, sell a copy of its product every two seconds, and provide undreamed-of levels of personal mobility for those who use its products. However, this innovation will also have other consequences so that at the end of one hundred years, it will have done or be doing the following:

  • paved an area equal to all the arable land in the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, requiring maintenance costing more than $200 million per day;
  • reshaped American communities and lives so as to restrict the mobility of most citizens who do not choose or are not able to own and operate the new product;
  • maimed or injured 250 million people, and killed more Americans than have died in all wars in the country's history;
  • be combusting 8 million barrels of oil every day (450 gallons per person annually);
  • made the United States increasingly dependent on foreign oil at a cost of $60 billion a year;
  • relied for an increasing percentage of that oil on an unstable and largely hostile region armed partly by American oil payments, requiring the United States to make large military expenditures there and maintain continual war-readiness;
  • be killing a million wild animals per week, from deer and elk to birds, frogs, and opossums, plus tens of thousands of domestic pets;
  • be creating a din of noise and a cloud of pollution in all metropolitan areas, affecting sleep, concentration, and intelligence, making the air in some cities so unbreathable that children and the elderly cannot venture outside on certain days;
  • caused spectacular increases in asthma, emphysema, heart disease, and bronchial infections;
  • be emitting one-fourth of U.S. greenhouse gases so as to threaten global climatic stability and agriculture; and,
  • be creating 7 billion pounds of unrecycled scrap and waste every year.
Now imagine they succeeded.

Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Ransom Olds, Henry Ford and a gaggle of comrades were the catalytic culprits. I presume their intentions were entrepreneurial (create a company to make money by building and selling great products that fill unmet needs), not harmful. They were prophets in a business sense, not an ecological nor societal damaging manner. The thrills and ills of their success -- in a sobering and enterprising way -- open a window to innovate the world's largest industry.

As Natural Capitalism opined nearly a decade ago, the contemporary automobile is embarrassingly inefficient:
Of the energy in the fuel it consumes, at least 80 percent is lost, mainly in the engine's heat and exhaust, so that at most only 20 percent is actually used to turn the wheels. Of the resulting force, 95 percent moves the car, while only 5 percent moves the driver, in proportion to their respective weights. Five percent of 20 percent is one percent -- not a gratifying result from American cars that burn their own weight in gasoline every year.
Ouch. My teeth grind and my frown protrudes as I gaze at my parked '88 Landcruiser, backed up to my wife's Volvo SUV. They're inefficient petro-pigs, a paradox of living in Davis (let alone on this planet).

Completely redesigning cars by reconfiguring three key design elements could save at least 70 to 80 percent of the fuel it currently uses, while making it safer, sportier, and more comfortable, Natural Capitalism's authors opine. These three changes (pyramids for entrepreneurs to ascend with their innovations) are:
  1. making the vehicle ultralight, with a weight two to three times less than that of steel cars;
  2. making it ultra-low-drag, so it can slip through the air and roll along the road several times more easily; and,
  3. after steps 1 and 2 have cut by one-half to two-thirds the power needed to move the vehicle, making its propulsion system "hybrid-electric."
It's the last day of third grade for my eight-year-old son; he awoke at 5:45 (5:06, he claims) as I scribed the above. With no knowledge of what I'm babbling about herein (no joke), he said: Mommy, why do you guys like big cars? They're bad because they get low gas mileage and they're going to break down.


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Regan Marye said...

Well, some people would say that you can't really blame them since Americans were in search for an easier way to travel back then. The industry definitely boomed because it gave people automobiles powered by a gas engine. That was effective marketing right there. They thought of what people wanted to have, and they gave it to them. The only problem here is they didn't foresee the effects.

I have friends in Jacksonville who want to start a local business. I hope they can learn from this. By planning, forecasting, and predicting first before they go into a new venture, they can avoid bad future effects.

Staci Burruel said...

That car business started out as a local venture. It became a hit and it expanded. In this age where we have the internet, people can now easily find cars. It makes me wonder what kind of marketing strategy they used back then that made those cars sell like hot pancakes from a store. Whatever that strategy was, it sure was an effective local marketing strategy. Cars spread like wildfire!

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