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writer grabs irrelevant scraps and outdated leftovers from the banquet of current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
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!