Driving back from Vermont today I was considering how strange it is that automotive technology is so primitive. If all the other familiar technologies in our lives had stopped at the maturity level of gas powered cars, we would be travelling home for the holidays in a stagecoach, listening to the IDP live by candlelight, and at home on hand-cranked wax phonographs. Yet the gas cylinder powered automobile engine remains largely unchanged, although in some cases it is more fuel efficient. Computers became common-place because they promise to make us able to communicate more efficiently and quickly and cheaply, airplanes became common because they promise to get us more quickly from point A to B, and electric lights became common because who could resist the idea of man’s desire to achieve more, later, longer hours, a triumph over the sun itself. So why do cars remain so deeply rooted in technology that is in-efficient, dangerous, polluting, and more than a century old? It’s because the people trying to propose options, whatever they may be, have never managed to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” If the option is a slower electric car that costs more to run and requires frequent recharges, there’s really “nothing in it for me”. If it’s a hybrid car that still uses some gas, isn’t particularly large or attractive, and (again) costs more to buy than would be recouped from the gas savings, such an option also fails to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”
So, to encourage more development of infrastructure for and social acceptance of alternatively fueled vehicles, there is only one answer – tell people “what’s in it for them”. While a small minority of the population (most readers of this blog included) may be willing to take actions that have no direct bneneficial consequence for oursleves, if we sit around waiting for the rest of society to cop the same attitude we’re going to be buried under a mountain of crappy weather and plastic bags.
My proposal would be, for a period of twelve months give a 100% tax deduction to anyone who purchases any mass-produced alternatively fueled car. In those twelve months, enough early adopters and “rich people” would buy the expensive vehicles that an infrastructure would be forced to come into existence. Following that twelve-month period, the 100% tax deduction should continue for a three-year period, and in addition a ten-percent additional energy tax should be added to the cost of every gasoline powered automobile. This combination of incentive and dis-incentive would quickly make everyone feel that there was “something in it for them” and would lead to a rapid increase in vehicle technology, of the same sort we see in the fields of communications and computing.