By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As the holding pattern for the auto industry continues, with the chip “thing” lasting throughout this year and into the next, and the retail business completely upended, it’s okay to focus on some other things. (Or, at least I’m telling myself that.) To be sure, being “on hold” is a relative term, with EV and battery development continuing at a furious pace. There is no rest for the weary in this regard, as the research – and breakthroughs – happening now in batteries, charging time and range will seriously affect the reality of our transportation future.
Nonetheless, when I go to a typical manufacturer’s “build and price” page right now and see key options – like heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheels, etc. (if you don’t live in a cold climate, you have no idea how essential heated seats are -WG) unable to be ordered on vehicles, I have to wonder – retrofitted chips or not – how long is this sustainable? I am firmly convinced that consumers will get used to thinking ahead and ordering exactly what they want – which is an admitted radical departure for typical American car buyers – but when they can’t actually get what they want, how long will the patience last? I’m guessing not very long, especially with buyers of six-figure vehicles.
I know the prevailing explanation winds blowing in from the manufacturers consist of the catchall phrases “we’re working on it” and “it will take time” to overcome this chip shortage. That’s well and good, but when consumer patience runs out, the focus will turn to the manufacturers being ill-prepared – yet again – and they’re all going to have to collectively own that, because, well, given no evidence to the contrary, it’s true.
So, with that picture painted, what can be done in the meantime? I admit I’ve grown tired of this “It Won’t Be Long Now!” hold that this business is wallowing in. Dealing with the fact that the coming promise of the EV transition is not months but years away has become a major drag. Yes, the show-pony, six-figure EVs (and up) will be here soon enough, but the bread-and-butter mainstream EVs that need to come in at $35,000 or less? The clock is ticking: 2024? 2025? 2026? Needless to say, the promises being made by the manufacturers now must be taken with a giant grain of salt, because the reality of affordable EVs is, though not a total pipe dream, far over the hill and down a long road.
Again, what can be done in the meantime? As Rudyard Kipling once famously said:
“I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”
Those words, for me, are getting harder and harder to come by while waiting out this excruciating transition to the EV Age. So, now what?
Here’s a novel idea: I favor a return to driving. No, not the occasional 40-minute jaunt consisting of errands and “must-dos,” but driving for the pure, unvarnished hell of it. I talk to a lot of enthusiasts who lament the fact that they don’t actually drive anymore. Even the drive to a typical “cars and coffee” in their favorite machine doesn’t seem to constitute real driving, because it has become a rote exercise of stoplights and speed limits just to get there.
Yes, the urban malaise by nature is restrictive and soul sucking when it comes to the act of driving. Speed limits and revenue-generating law enforcement have definitely driven a wedge between enthusiasts and driving enjoyment. (The land rush to giant SUVs and heavy trucks hasn’t exactly helped.) But that can be overcome. Get out of the city, explore some roads you haven’t been on, it might just help. No, let me change that, it will definitely help.
The end of the ICE Age and the dawn of the EV age doesn’t have to be a motorized Purgatory. There is a lot of driving to be done. (Track days are great, but they remain unaffordable to most, on many levels.) I am reminded of a certain time in my past when I had a 1987 Porsche 911 Turbo. That car absolutely hated the urban slog; it would spit and load up, and creak and groan in protest. The only thing that would cure that car’s blues was to take it out for some serious exercise, which I did most early Sunday mornings.
I don’t expect a lot of readers to be familiar with the roads I’m about to talk about, but I will try to give you an idea. Ann Arbor is about 45 minutes away. To get there from here you take three freeways: 696 West, to 275 South, to 14 West, which takes you right into downtown Ann Arbor. Today, these roads are in questionable shape – wheel, tire and suspension-tearing potholes are always a moment away – and are chock-full of endless streams of traffic. But back then, at certain times of the week, the roads were relatively wide open, especially the 14 part.
I did a little research and found out that on early Sunday mornings, there was a law enforcement shift change between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. So, if I timed my trip out perfectly, and hit 14 right around 6:00 a.m., it was relatively clear sailing all the way to Ann Arbor. I did a few dry runs where I was able to do intermittent, foot-to-the-floor bursts, and that Turbo ran like a champ, all happy and throaty and quick. I also noticed that at that time of day in the summer, the sun was very low behind me, to the point I couldn’t even glance in my rearview mirror the sun was so strong. Conversely, that meant I could see way down the road in front of me, which is absolutely mandatory when contemplating top speed in a Turbo. (It’s an old fighter pilot trick that was learned back in the dogfight days – always keep the sun behind you to get a jump on your opposition. It works too.)
I made it a weekly ritual that summer, each time emboldened by the fact that there was not only minimal traffic, but the polizei were nowhere to be found. The best run was my last, at least for that summer, when I was able to hammer my Turbo – foot-to-the-proverbial-floor – for ten flat-out, uninterrupted, no-lift miles. Which was an indicated 165+ mph, or thereabouts, on the speedo. Needless to say, it didn’t take 45 minutes to get to Ann Arbor at that speed. And I could enjoy a nice steaming cup of coffee, grinning to myself, before the trip back.
Now, of course I’m not suggesting that can be done today, because heaven knows, the consequences would be ugly and extremely costly. But the point is this: a fun drive is still in the offing if you just take the time to do so by deviating from the beaten path of errands and pounding around in the urban slog. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable way to revel in the sunset of the ICE Age.
After all is said and done, it turns out that “no particular place” is the perfect destination.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
NO PARTICULAR PLACE TO GO. — from Rants
By Peter M. DeLorenzo