Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Big Green Pig on Wheels?

Dan Neil, the always-entertaining auto journalist for the LA Times (and 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner), covers the hydrogen-hype at the LA Auto Show (ending this weekend) with the usual relish:

To know what strange times these are in the automotive world, you need only contemplate the words: hydrogen-powered Hummer.

At first glance — and second and third — using hydrogen to power a 3-ton SUV seems a sadly comical misapplication of technology. Why not a bulldozer powered by hydrazine rocket fuel or a minibike shot through with plutonium fuel rods? Why not capture 3.5 billion fireflies and use their precious incandescence to power a Buick?

And yet, there it sits on the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center, a big, Dalton blue Hummer with an enormous carbon-fiber bottle in the back. Such monstrosities can only come from monstrous egos, and sure enough, behind the H2H — pushing it uphill, straining our credulity — are California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and General Motors Vice-Chairman Robert Lutz, who made a personal appearance to deliver the vehicle in October. GM's interest is obvious enough. The Hummer brand has become synonymous with a kind of ecological infantilism — to drive one is to be seen as throwing a tantrum over inconvenient facts such as America's addiction to foreign oil and global warming. Anything to paint this pig green is a help.

I went last weekend and, as in years past, the Hummer exhibit was overrun with large families, all trying to fit as many sticky-fingered offspring as possible into the show vehicles. Hummers, it seems, have replaced the people-packing Beetle as the car of choice for this stunt.

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