Obvious Systemic Problems Part 2
Via Mr. Kos, more proof that we are not as free as we can be:
bq.. Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.
"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be superefficient."
p. Because we are serfs in our cars, beholden to a relatively small business elite when it comes to answering the automotive engineering questions of our times, we are not doing what we could be doing.
bq. Goodwin is doing precisely what the big American automakers have always insisted is impossible. They have long argued that fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cars are a hard sell because they're too cramped and meek for our market. They've lobbied aggressively against raising fuel-efficiency and emissions standards, insisting that either would doom the domestic industry.
p. Basically a bunch of executives with no real technical expertise set the parameters around what can and can't be driven in America, and they do so without regard to long-run outcomes. I've heard reliably stories that all through the 1990s, GM had a two-man engineering team working year round on electic concept cars: putting a new-looking shell and interior together around the same never-to-be-produced drivetrain.
That's how an aristocracy behaves. There's an enormous institutional investment in The Way Things Are™, and as a result these people are not only myopic to scientific potential, they actively resist change for fear of losing their already tenuous position.
bq. If the dream is a big, badass ride that's also clean, well, [Goodwin is] there already. As he points out, his conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock GM parts and snapping them together in clever new ways. "They could do all this stuff if they wanted to," he tells me, slapping on a visor and hunching over an arc welder. "The technology has been there forever. They make 90% of the components I use." He doesn't have an engineering degree; he didn't even go to high school: "I've just been messing around and seeing what I can do."
So, like, what the fuck? Where's my 60mpg hummer, my Japanese-level free internet, and my universal health care? What the hell is wrong with this country?
bq. For his part, Goodwin argues he's merely "a problem solver. Most people try to make things more complicated than they are." He speaks of the major carmakers with a sort of mild disdain: If he can piece together cleaner vehicles out of existing GM parts and a bit of hot-rod elbow grease, why can't they bake that kind of ingenuity into their production lines? Prod him enough on the subject and his mellowness peels away, revealing a guy fired by an almost manic frustration. "Everybody should be driving a plug-in vehicle right now," he complains, in one of his laconic engineering lectures, as we wander through the blistering Kansas heat to a nearby Mexican restaurant. "I can go next door to Ace Hardware and buy a DC electric motor, go out to my four-wheel-drive truck, remove the transmission and engine, bolt the electric motor onto the back of the transfer case, put a series of lead-acid batteries up to 240 volts in the back of the bed, and we're good to go. I guarantee you I could drive all around town and do whatever I need, go home at night, and hook up a couple of battery chargers, plug one into an outlet, and be good to go the next day.
This is how the DIY generation thinks. I guarantee you that if someone were to assemble a team around this guy, do technical documentation, and start putting it online you'd see an explosion of this kind of activity over the next few years.
bq. "Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to," he adds.
That's the real point. We're not locked into a horrible doom-cycle if we don't want to be, if we have the courage to change, and if we can get the lazy fatback motherfuckers in charge of 90% of the useful infrastructure to realize they need to work for a living.
One can hope Detroit would take this to scale, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Hopefully Goowdin's kits will be popular, and hopefully people-power can continue to drive innovations where corporations and catatonic 20th-century governments continue to fail.