Fast Company

The Horseless Carriage Will Never Catch On

In the late 1800s, Congress was so fearful of a new explosive substance (gasoline) and the machines that used it (horseless carriages) that it set up a Commission to evaluate the potential dangers. Among other findings, the Commission concluded that these new machines could threaten public safety, “hurtling through our streets” at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. Reading the reports, you would conclude that this technology would never catch on - - and, in the interests of the nation, never should.

 

Fast forward a century or so and skeptics abound about the latest new-fangled contraptions such as cars powered by batteries, biofuels, or hydrogen. Even the proponents of each like to circle the wagons and shoot inward. Electric car enthusiasts are not sufficiently certain of their favorite technology to let it stand on its merits, but in movies like “Who Killed the Electric Car” feel obliged to attack hydrogen powered vehicles as if it makes their case stronger. Similarly, everyone jumped on the ethanol bandwagon until realizing that fuel can’t compete with food - - or a slumping economy - - but the benefactors of ethanol had launched that bandwagon in the first place by denigrating electric cars and other emerging technologies.

 

The latest salvo comes from the Los Angeles Times in a recent article praising Honda’s new hydrogen-powered Clarity for its technological superiority, but arguing that hydrogen will never catch on as a transportation fuel. Like most naysayers for this or other technologies, the writer grabs irrelevant scraps and outdated leftovers from the banquet of current information about hydrogen, fuel cells, and next generation cars to make his points. Finally though, he makes his real motive clear - - he prefers cars that use petroleum and a battery assist.

 

Like others who fear their personal favorite can’t stand up on its own merits, this writer makes the case for one technology over another, when in fact our oil addiction, climate change, and the economic devastation wrought by oil dependence won’t be solved by ANY single approach - - we will need them all. Moreover, like everything else in life, we won’t make choices purely on reason, solely based on the most efficient product or service. If that were the case, we might all still be looking at a horse’s behind on our way to work each morning.

 

Regardless of which technology any of us may prefer, I’m proud to be the world’s first automotive customer to trade in a hydrogen fuel cell car for a newer one! After nearly five years driving several generations of the Honda FCX, I traded in mine for a new Honda Clarity. I also get bragging rights for being the first retail customer to buy hydrogen at a gas station in 2004.

 

The LA Times story got at least one thing right - - Honda has been doing a great job of proving the technology for many years now, culminating in the Clarity coming off a regular assembly line, proving that we’re not that many years away from seeing them “hurtling down our streets” everywhere. When it happens, the horseless carriage may finally catch on after all!

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