Why Yanks won't give up their tanks

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Whenever I go to America, I come back feeling sorry for the car industry and for environmentalists there. Their good work - and they are mostly fighting a common cause - has all been in vain. The Yanks just don't want to drive sophisticated, fuel-frugal cars. They want tanks. And the bigger and thirstier, the better.

Spurred on by the green lobby and by liberal academics and marketeers who have repeatedly been forecasting the death of the old-style Yank Tank, American car makers have deserted their motoring dinosaurs and have been spending billions on more efficient engines and on cars which are lighter and smaller yet just as roomy inside. Further millions have been spent on streamlined aerodynamic shapes to help cars cut the air more efficiently and thus use less fuel; on automatic transmissions which waste less energy in the transfer of power from the engine to the driven wheels; and on plastics and light alloys to replace steel as body panels further to reduce mass and help save fuel. And what do the Yanks do? They spurn the lot and go out and buy pick-up trucks instead.

Yes folks, the biggest selling vehicle in America is now not a car at all, but a Ford pick-up. It has the aerodynamic air-cleaving ability of a brick wall, weighs two tons, uses big old-fashioned engines, slurps fuel like a fat kid downing extra large cups of Coke and is about as hi- tech as your lawnmower. Pick-ups now form the biggest growth sector of the "car" market in America. Even the Japanese makers, who first got the Yanks interested in smaller and more fuel-frugal cars, are following suit. In an extraordinary reversal, they are now following the US makers in building big, butch, thirsty, rumbling pick-ups.

I've just come back from three days in Arizona, and I reckon there are now almost as many pick-ups as cars on the road there. And it's not just the cowboy or redneck states that are going pick-up mad. Even trendy young things in the more sophisticated Eastern seaboard states, and in California, are doing it. Young people want trucks, not cars - and the faster and meaner looking, the better.

Further to underline their contempt for the car industry's save-the-planet efforts, the Yanks are also falling ever-deeper in love with off-road vehicles. Next to pick-ups, they're the thirstiest and heaviest "cars" on the road. And, like pick-ups, they do not have to meet the same high safety standards that America's nannying legislators demand of conventional cars - which are increasingly like padded cells on wheels. So while the politicians and the Ralph Nader-like consumer-protecting do-gooders are getting into a tizz about ever-safer cars, and are no doubt about to demand air bags to protect your pets, and side intrusion beams capable of withstanding a flank attack from a Sherman tank, the Yanks themselves are buying "cars" that look mean and tough and to hell with what's "right".

The Yanks, I'm convinced, have never been happy with the idea of losing their old gas guzzlers. The car makers have told them they can't have them any more, the legislators have said they should drive fuel-efficient cars, and the greens have said "think small" otherwise you'll stuff the world. So they go out and buy trucks and off-roaders, showing two fingers to them all.

There's something in the American psyche that likes big, aggressive things. Whereas in England we're still besotted with Morris Minors and MGs - friendly, gentle cars - and like living in old houses that blend well with our environment, the Yanks love what Bill Bryson once called the "f*** you" style of architecture. The bigger and less subtle, the better.

We may be thinking small and fuel-frugal in our cars, spurred on by high fuel prices, and Europeans and Japanese are doing likewise. But the Yanks, I'm afraid, may be a lost cause.

When I was in America, some right-wingers in Washington were getting in a flap about gasoline prices being too high and how this was obstructing every American's right to mobility. Yes, petrol prices in America have now reached the dizzy height of $1.31 a gallon average, nationwide. In case you're not familiar with currency exchanges or have forgotten what gallons of petrol are (our own oil companies having cleverly sold the stuff by the litre for years, to make it seem cheaper), that's well under half of what we're paying. Hell, if gasoline cost any more, folks may have to start walking occasionally.

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