November's cover story had Fast Company readers revved up. We received a flood of responses, ranging from disbelief ("There are a ton of unsubstantiated claims in this article") to wild enthusiasm ("Johnathan Goodwin is an American hero"). Some readers criticized the U.S. auto industry for failing to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles while others provided some defenses ("It costs a huge amount of money to get a new power train certified for mass production"). But the most common reaction: "I want Goodwin to work on my car!"
I have been inspired by this article on the Kansas mechanic and his diesel magic! I believe Goodwin has the stuff to get real people excited about saving fuel and lowering emissions. The problem isn't that Detroit can't make a 100-mpg car; it's that we as American consumers haven't validated the demand.
This summer, I made some minor modifications to my daily commute to save gas. It improved 35%, just by my looking for opportunities to coast, removing a mirror, and inflating the tires 5 psi over. However, when I told the guys at work about my little experiment, they didn't say, "Hey, that's not a bad idea, maybe I could get better mileage, too." They said, "Ha ha, you did what? And what's that save you, a couple of bucks a week? I could do that, but I'm always in a hurry." Some of us are just too lazy, don't care, or expect someone else to solve the problem. Or we're in denial about the problem altogether.
Enter the genius of Goodwin. He has taken the ultimate testosterone-filled giant truck and made it as efficient as (if not more than) a new Prius. I can't think of a better way to excite the average American driver. If I could get one of his Duramax conversions, and a Chevy Volt when it comes out, I could just laugh at the gas stations when I pass.
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
It is no surprise that Goodwin is not part of the automobile-manufacturing cabal. Adherence to conformity is the greatest barrier that the American auto industry, along with many others, faces. Such a mind-set girdle stifles real problem solving for the sake of fitting in, and so restricts the discovery of real solutions. Ingenuity knows no bounds. A person who has passion, curiosity, intelligence, and, most important, an open mind can challenge conventional wisdom and change the world. Bravo, Johnathan!
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Goodwin seems to be a pretty good guy, but the article makes him sound like a scam artist. Many Hummer H1s were diesels and turbo diesels from the factory, and none of them got 18 mpg in a realistic, verifiable way. Adding various gases to the diesel intake airstream is also nothing new, but it can increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions only slightly. Adding as much as 50% hydrogen to the airstream would mean consuming a tremendous amount of the gas, which itself comes with a high environmental cost: It takes more energy to create hydrogen than the energy you get from using it.There are legitimate efforts that can claim high mpg figures: the Aptera, for example, will get over 100 mpg in real-world terms and incorporates engineering light-years ahead of a hot-rodded Hummer, phenomenal aerodynamics, and a very small fraction of the Hummer's mass. It requires a huge amount of energy to move a large, heavy vehicle with atrocious aerodynamics. Hype does not change that.
As a science teacher, I constantly look for new ways to inspire my students and help them see how they can be a part of the solution. Clearly, Goodwin is a "motorhead messiah," but you also captured the matter-of-fact nature behind his thinking and approach to life: He just wants to solve problems. Sometimes when you think too much, stuff doesn't get done.
Santa Barbara, California
I'm a retired engineer who worked for Michelin Research for the past 27 years. I have long been interested in cars, trucks, power trains, fuel economy, and, of course, tires. I see clean diesel and plug-in hybrid electrics as awesome opportunities to reduce dependence, with little downside in the near term. While your article is quite interesting and may be good for raising awareness, it will leave many people with mistaken notions about the options we face as a country. Much of it is a lot like the "100-mpg carburetor" myth of my youth—that someone invented one, but the oil companies bought the rights to it so that they could suppress production. There are many suggestions in the article that huge power and torque, awesome mileage, and low emissions are just around the corner. Such is not the case.
William I. Griffith
Greenville, South Carolina
One of the main reasons why Detroit (or Japan) hasn't embraced Goodwin's technology is because of the hidden costs, which are not mentioned at all in the article. Batteries are the first and foremost. Current battery technology is just not up to doing the task in an efficient and cost-effective manner. I applaud Goodwin's drive to make a change and hope he continues to do so.
Goodwin is a clever mechanic. Bravo to him for his efforts. What all the "genius" presented in the article boils down to is high-efficiency diesel engines rigged for multifuel and lower emissions. Perhaps the most "genius" parts, though, are contained in Goodwin's comment that everyone should be driving a plug-in hybrid and his observation that diesel hybrids offer perhaps the best transitional platform for higher-efficiency transportation on the way to fully electric.
He would certainly display much more genius by performing any of these modifications to a lighter vehicle. Why do we have to strap our fat fannies to 3 tons of metal to move them forward? Finally, the article perpetuates a myth that Brazil has "weaned" itself from gasoline. My understanding is they've reduced gasoline use in a significant portion of their "light" vehicle fleet (i.e., passenger cars) but are nowhere near weaned from gasoline consumption.
Exeter, Rhode Island
It's great to hear about people like Goodwin and what they are doing to wean us off oil and develop alternative fuels.
Goodwin is probably doing very well by charging $28,000 for a basic conversion. But there are only so many people he can reach by himself. If he franchised his work to major cities, he could reduce his conversion cost and spread out his environmental impact.
My husband is originally from Kazakhstan and still has friends who live and do business there. I was very impressed with how closely your description of the country's business culture mirrors reality. Though I do feel very bad for Mark Seidenfeld, "Nightmare in Boomtown" (November 2007) is a good warning for foreign investors who go to Kazakhstan, Russia, or any other country without having a good understanding of its culture and history. The hope is that with Kazakhstan's fast- growing economy and large number of foreign investors, the Wild West rules of business will give way to fairer and more civilized business dynamics. However, it might take decades and another generation of local entrepreneurs before that change will occur.
Just a quick note to say I enjoyed Peter Lewis's article, "Do You Want to Play?," in the November issue. A run-on, annoyingly long article about World of Warcraft—style games would have been easy to write, but Lewis managed to pare down the content and deliver a great interview and nice synopsis of Richard Garriott's latest efforts.
In "Reinventing the Reel" (October 2007), we incorrectly said that a 1992 Diet Coke commercial "resurrected" Gene Kelly. He did not pass away until 1996.
In "Motorhead Messiah," Johnathan Goodwin drove a Hummer H1 from Denver to Kansas in 1999, not 1990.
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A version of this article appeared in the February 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.