Friday, May 2, 2008


America has long had a love affair with the automobile. The fins of the sixties and muscle cars of the seventies remain warm memories of beautiful designs sometimes decorating today's auto shows, private garages, and museums. With the oil cartel enjoying over $111 per barrel revenues, consumers, the very same ones who are now tightening the belt on all spending, are walking past the trucks and SUVs that have for so long been profit staples of automakers. Sales of small cars in April saw increases of 20 to 46 percent depending on the car. This is not an anomaly, but is a major shift in both perception and behavior. It is also the first metamorphosis of this century. More are on the way.

The vast distances between major North American cities, gave rise to the considerable network of highways currently crisscrossing the continent from San Diego to Halifax. Over the span of eighty years, this most extensive and complex road system served the building of a booming society. Whether swelling in 120 degree heat or shrinking in 40 below freezing cold, expressways provided reliable access and transport. Gasoline was abundant and driving was less a chore than a pleasant experience, and smog was only a rear view mirror experience. Going for a drive was even on occasion an enjoyable family outing. Long commutes became accepted and expected.

With the blistering entrance of the 21st century, driving has not only become an expensive experience, it has become a vexing one. We are feeling guilt even before leaving the driveway. We have become convinced of the impact our pollution has had on our environment. Our environment, not someone else’s. For a majority of taxpayers, the dramatically rapid rise in the price of gas at the pump has been measurable week to week, month to month. The dollars are vacating our premises for foreign lands, piling up into palaces and record setting skyscrapers twice the size of the empire state building. Anxieties are further fuelled by line-ups of neighbors losing their homes. Millions of them. This is a new reality. When you blend in the bombardment of news about a bankrupting war in Iraq not going well, our collective consciousness is dragged across a great divide.

The automobile, our second most expensive expenditure that was long the object of our desire, with a fusion of style and function, has lost any residue of romantic luster that might have lingered. We are now seeking functionality. Compact, efficient, economic and utilitarian transportation. This is more than a trend. It is a well entrenched modification of our mindsets and behaviors that will impact auto manufacturers and the oil industry for the long term, and positively stimulate new burgeoning industries in the process. North America is squinting through a paradigm shift, sidestepping around potholes. It’s own industries and manufacturers should rapidly adjust and respond with innovation and creativity.


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