Sally’s World, February 2003
Update: Much has changed since I wrote this post about muscle cars in 2003. What’s changed for the best that heartens me the most is that more and more folks ARE riding bikes as primary transportation. When I wrote this Chicago was not considered a cyclist friendly city. In my time working for Mayor Richard M. Daley, a project to improve the Bicycle Path that runs from the north side of Chicago to the south side was being passed around the mayor’s office like a hot potato – some mayoral aides even ridiculed it. I didn’t. Being a frequent bike commuter, I thought it was great. I’m proud of what Chicago has done so far. We even have bike sharing in Divvy, although we need clearly defined bike lanes downtown for it to be truly useful.
By SALLY DUROS
The play “Lysistrata” has been on my mind a lot lately with war and International Women’s Day fast approaching. So I was surprised when I punched the word, Lysistrata into Google and saw that a global protest was to take place March 3 with almost 800 readings of the ancient play scheduled for performance in 43 countries. For those of you needing a refresher on your classics, in Lysistrata Athenian women barricade themselves in the Acropolis and go on a sex strike to force their husbands to vote for peace with Sparta. It’s a comedy, with one of the main characters being the visible manifestation of male lust on stage. What that means I’ll leave to your imagination…
I’m guessing that folks were more lusty back then than they are today, and I’m not sure that the approach of the Athenium sisterhood would make a dent on our males of today. Take their remotes away -hear the pain! Or to be even more forceful – take away their muscle cars!
This occurred to me when I was looking at the Hummer ad on the back cover of Business 2.0. In the photo, the Hummer looks overpowering, strong and virile — it’s a mensch of a car glaring at me with mean headlights. “Search Engine” – the ad copy reads.
This is an intimidating car, and it’s for the man, OK — person, who wants a powerful image. Evidence abounds that these images make a big difference in the way we treat each other.
For instance, a study conducted in San Francisco found that a prestige car parked at a green light was treated with patience and care, while the economy car in the same situation was scorned. Two impatient drivers even rammed into the economy car.
For the past decade or so, it has taken a lot of debt to create the impression of being an important person of today. But these values are shifting – from being “important” to being “responsible.” And women are leading the shift.
I’m thinking about my sister, Mary. She’s got a thing about cars like the Hummer. Her thing is so strong that last year she bought a Toyota Prius, one of the new hybrids that combines the conventional engine of a gas powered vehicle with a battery and electric motor. They can get twice the fuel economy as a regular car. But the elevated mpg is just a pleasant side effect. The car itself was designed to greatly reduce emissions not increase gas mileage.
The Prius is the car that has taken Hollywood by storm, so my sister is in the same club with Leonardo DiCaprio and his family. Now, THAT’s a car that others salute at the intersection.
In fact, it is women like my sister who are using their purchasing power to create a market for the new hybrid technology. Research by Automotive Digest found that 35% of women say they would strongly consider buying a Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or another hybrid. Men show nowhere near that level of interest.
It’s not only the purchasers but also thought leaders and influencers who are fortifying this budding market. The Association of Women Automotive Journalists (WAJ) selected the Honda Civic hybrid propulsion system as the Best Automotive Feature in a 2003 vehicle.
In announcing the award, Jean Jennings, Chair of the nine-member WAJ Steering Committee and Editor- in-Chief of Automobile Magazine, told the audience: “The WAJ Awards, for the first time ever, have given us a strong voice, enabling women to clearly communicate our expectations to those who want our business.” To control possible conflicts of interest in the voting, women journalists associated with automotive manufacturers, suppliers or dealers were not allowed to vote.
While women will put their money where their values lie – their interest is directly tied to concern over the environment and the lower emission levels of hybrids – men adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Marketers say men are looking for proven performance and potential resale values as the design becomes integrated into the marketplace. Which is a nice way of saying women buy responsible while men buy sex and power.
I’ll admit when it comes to cars I’m an extreme case. I’ll never forget the car conversation I had with my boss, the Big City Mayor (Mayor Richard M. Daley) a few years back – this was before he was the “bicycle Mayor.” Mister Mayor was saying that a person’s car served pretty much the same function as a person’s appearance, and that you could tell everything about a person from their car. I knew this was in large part true, and I was feeling invisible — I didn’t know how to tell him that I “drove” a purple Bridgestone cross-bike and had never owned a car.
I know few Americans are going to trade in their cars for a bicycle. (Today in 2013, that’s changing – thank goodness! ) The next best thing is to put consumer pressure on the auto manufacturers to build responsible cars. After all, many of us spend so much time in our cars that we might as well live in them. I read recently that the average car driver will work twenty-seven hours each month paying for the thirty-two hours per month spent driving, and that during her or his lifetime the average car driver will spend more than $400,000 on a car’s gas, upkeep and repairs.
In an effort to appease tree huggers like me, President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, proposed $1.2 billion to develop hydrogen powered cars. That reminded me of Bill Clinton. Clinton and the big three worked together to develop the Supercar, which was supposed to get 80 miles per gallon. A recent Chicago Tribune Special Report said the federal government spent $1.5 billion, and the car companies spent just as much, but the car got canned after the 2000 election.
According to the Tribune, the U.S. Energy Department considered hydrogen cars then but decided it would take 20 to 35 years to get them on the road. And the cost of the new fueling infrastructure would have been astronomical. I guess Bush’s team has figured out some way to get around all that new infrastructure cost?
To date, about 36,000 hybrids are on the road in the United States, most of them Toyota Prius’s. That’s small potatoes when you look at the volume of cars built or sold in the United States annually – around 18 million a year! The cars carry a sticker price of about $20,000. Honda also has the two-seater Insight, and has just introduced the Civic hybrid. And Ford will be offering a hybrid, the Escape, this year. Buyers of these vehicles are eligible for as much as $2,000 in federal tax credits.
So I’m looking at the Hummer ad and wondering how long it will take for the US auto manufacturers to shift gears. The muscle cars are heading for extinction in today’s environmental and political climate while the new trendsetters are in hybrid technology. The hybrids may not be the perfect answer, but they can make a big difference in the way America lives in the world.
Me, I’m hopping on my Bridgestone to catch a free performance of Lysistrata in my neighborhood – can’t wait to see the costuming!
You can learn more about my sister’s Prius, the Elektra, and her other Prius friends at her website www.maryduros.com.
By the way, the opinions presented in Sally’s World are mine and do not in any way represent those of WorldWIT. I invite your rage and your praise. Email me!