You are here

Car Guys Have Blind Spots

Car guys, and I am one, have some blind spots.  We want more car than we really need or can use, and we think we’re better drivers than we really are.  Those blind spots make us poor judges of what most people want or need and of the cars that the automotive industry should be building in the future. 

The car magazines lead us astray.  Their road tests feature exotic cars:  Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses and the like.  Those cars are desirable, but they are fantasies.  Their production is only a tiny fraction of total worldwide automobile production.  They are far beyond the means of all but a few of the magazines’ readers.  Their performance is beyond any reasonable requirement for driving on the road. 

The implied standard of comparison in the car magazines is a racing car.  Cars are often rated based on their performance on a race track.  The assumption is that a car that performs well on a race track will be a desirable street car.  

Performance on a race track has very little to do with desirable performance on the street.  First, driving a high-performance car at anything near its potential on ordinary roads is unsafe, dangerous and potentially deadly.  Second, a street car, even an exotic street car, is not a race car, no matter how well it performs.  Racing cars are stiffer, less compliant and lighter than street cars.  They are on racing tires, and their suspensions are adjustable for maximum performance.  Driving a racing car on the street would be a very unsatisfactory experience. 

Many car guys believe that they are good drivers, maybe even as good as a racing driver.  In truth, they are not even close to the capabilities of a racing driver.  If they ever had the opportunity to ride in a racing car on a road racing track with a top-level professional driver, as I have, they would learn that their driving skills are not even remotely comparable to his, even if they drove as fast as they would like to think they can. 

Car guys need to overcome their blind spots and recognize some new realities.  Oil supplies are dwindling and controlled by countries not particularly friendly to the US or other first tier nations.  Gasoline prices are going to increase, probably to something beyond $10.00 per gallon.  Most drivers don’t share the enthusiasts’ performance values or driving habits.  A new kind of automobile is going to be needed.

High performance cars are great fun and ego-gratifying, but the car of the future is not a 600 horsepower car with a zero to sixty time under six seconds.  It is a plug-in, a hybrid, a diesel or a car with a smaller displacement gasoline engine.  In whatever form, it should have fuel efficiency equivalent to gasoline engine mileage exceeding fifty miles per gallon. 

I’m not a tree-hugger.  I’m not against high-performance cars or having fun while driving.  But I believe it’s time for enthusiasts to turn their attention away from ultimate performance and towards fuel efficient solutions.  You don’t need horsepower to have fun.  The 1945 MG TC had less than 55 horsepower.  People thought it was a blast to drive, and it launched a sports car revolution.  A 150 horsepower hybrid could start another revolution today.