I live behind enemy lines. My neighbors are tree huggers. As the lone car guy of our little sandbox at the edge of Los Angeles, I am persona non grata. That aside, I LOVE where I live. It is a secret bastion of quiet within the second most populated city in the United States. Literally spitting distance from LAX, my neighbors and I are accustomed to hearing each other’s most private moments but never an A380 on final approach to runway 25 left. The quiet is great and all but the Raison d’être of my hood are the neighbors. Contrary to 99.9% of the world population’s view of LA being superficial, we are a real community. We do things together on national holidays.
Proof of their progressive ways, this group of creative types have elected me, a person for whom the internal combustion engine is a religion, the MC for our neighborhood events. So on weeks when I roll in with a 600 + HP something that gets 4 MPG highway they tolerate me. Then on weeks involving LEAFs and Volts, I am the second coming of Christ. In either case, I get a lot of questions. If you are reading this, you are most likely just like me, the ‘car consigliore’ of your allotted group of friends and/or neighbors. You know the drill - people find out you know something about cars and you invariably get the ‘what do you think of this car’ line only to realize it is either a car they a. Own; b. Want to Own or c. Are in the process of buying. I am going through this right now with my ladyfriend’s cousin. New to LA and planning for the future, they want an SUV or CUV of some sort. A while a go I got the ‘What do you think of the Acura MDX’ and my answer was simple: ‘There are better choices out there’. Well, after hearing the same question at barbeques, dinners and now weddings, my answer remains the same despite their hope that I had an epiphany, changed my mind and now ordain the purchase they are going to make with our without my blessing.
So I thought about this very topic as I bump into my neighbor this morning. Great guy. Probably was a full on tree hugger at one point but now as the proprietor of a well-known shop in town he has become a successful businessman. That hasn’t stopped he and his wife from exercising bad choices in cars. When I moved in almost five years ago they had not one but TWO Prius’ (or is it Prii?).
Just after I moved in and he caught wind of what I do, I got a variation of the ‘what do you think of’ line. His reaction was a bit different. He actually listened to my choices, asked good questions and did do some research. But two years ago he still ended up with two new Prii. So today he and his wife are in the garage as I stroll by and there sat a brand spankin’ new Lexus CT200h. Yes, a gussied up Prius but at least a baby step in the right direction. His wife tears out of there for fear of hearing another one of my dissertations on end of life issues for batteries and Diesels. Her husband was another story. He wants to right his Prius wrong and off we went on a car discussion. Knowing what he wants, he steers the conversation towards the Tesla Model S but has a problem – he is spot 83,487 on the waiting list. Approximate delivery date: St Never’s Day. Thus, an interim choice would be prudent.
Now, I have been trying to get him out of the West LA staff car that is the Prius for years with no success. Well, some. His son bought a Scion (yes, they are the dream family for Toyota). And in complete honesty, as car consigliore I just didn’t have many choices to offer him in the past. Today was no different – or so I thought. After my visit with Daniel at Barber Motorsports Park last week I had Porsche on the brain so my open was ‘Porsche Panamera Hybrid’. Then I moved to Cayenne because of this strangely attractive yellow Hybrid with black wheels that was floating around the track. He wasn’t buying. And I can see why – he is currently doing 55 MPG over 10,000 miles a year, so 20-MPG city – even with a Ferdinand’s crest on the hood was not enough motivation. Figuring 30-MPG city with some pulling power thrown on top of it would do the trick; I upped the ante to the Infiniti M35h. This is an odd choice because I have yet to have a proper ‘visit' with this car. My only exposure was the one we used as a camera car in Charleston, South Carolina for our Infiniti JX35 shoot. I ‘traded’ the JX to my cameraman and had a ball terrorizing the nice folks of the Palmetto State. Back to my neighbor – intrigued but still no dice.
Then another idea popped into my mind: Volkswagen Passat TDi. Figuring I would appeal to his MPG side, how could I go wrong with a full size car that I PERSONALLY did 46 MPG on the highway? Now he was excited. But then a funny thing happened. You see, as much as WINACHEE would let you believe it, I am not against alternate propulsion systems. Having been a technology guy in a previous life, I am fascinated by technology that solves real problems. Having lived in New York City most of my life, I am passionate about real solutions to energy and environmental problems. This is why I am not a huge fan of the Prius. Yes, there are short-term benefits in MPG but they come with packaging, weight and cost issues just to name a few. So when a game changer comes along like the LEAF or Volt even I, the most ardent of gearheads, takes note.
And it was at that very moment that a light bulb went off. Just one or two years ago, I had only funny looking little hatchbacks or pricey diesel sedans to suggest to people like my well reasoning but green leaning neighbor. But in a vision of WINACHEE’s utopia, there are real choices on offer now and coming to market very shortly that a car guy like me can provide his consigliore stamp of approval without reservation.
It was then I recanted my previous suggestions and went Volt. Here’s a guy that commutes maybe 10 miles each way a day so it would be months before he refills the tank of this thing. To boot, Gerry Brown and the Green Car Militia of The California Republic would give him an HOV sticker if he checked the right option box.
Then, let's not forget the growing list of compact cars that do without the double propulsion system but still turn at or near 40 MPG like the Cruze, Focus and Versa.
But wait, there’s more. How about one of GM’s eAssist cars, read mild hybrid – the Buick LaCrosse or Chevrolet Malibu Eco? Like the Passat, big cars that turn close to 40 MPG. Or if he acted quickly he could do a Ford Escape Hybrid. Which for the life of me, I cannot understand why they are moving that technology to the C-Max (you already saw WINACHEE’s overreaction to the news).
On that topic, a fellow classic car gearhead friend of mine who is married to a professional treehugger – she’s employed as the saver of a near extinct grasshopper or something like that - has had his wife in an Escape Hybrid for years now. On the news of Escape Hybrid’s doom, they quickly went out and got a 2012 before it meets its maker. Speaking of Ford, there’s the upcoming 2013 Fusion.
As you have seen, I am big fan of Moray’s design and it is going to be on offer both as a Hybrid and a Plug In Hybrid (the car in the film was an Energi Plug In). The details on EV range are still kind of sketchy but here’s the point: While we were all focusing on the economy and being fiscally raped by oil traders and those in control of refineries, Detroit, Japan and Germany were quietly putting out real solutions to the problem.
Yes, I am well aware that I will never switch all my neighbors to the perfection that is the Lotus Exige, but car guys can now make honest suggestions to friends without losing them to Hybrid Synergy Drive. And no, I haven’t changed my mind on the MDX.