Ryan Chartrand

First things first, I should state my dilemma. I am at the same time an auto enthusiast and a sustainability nerd. There, I said it.

In an era of both rampant excess and harrowing visions foretold of the future, it is a tough position to be in. It’s not that I have anything against public transportation (subway systems have always interested me); it’s just that I love the call of the open road. Automobiles have entwined themselves into American culture to the point that we can’t even consider what life without a car is even like. And they have been so far entwined into our current infrastructure that any radical change to their basic design would force massive roadway reconstruction projects nationwide. Even with the advent of the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, it is still difficult to find some common ground between these two camps. Yet as diametrically opposed as these groups may seem, I can’t help but side with both.

For those of you readers who’ve had a history of dozing off in G.E. philosophy classes (and I will be the first to admit guilt), autonomy – in Kantian philosophic terms – is the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires. While that word might not fully encompass this column’s theme, it did make for a catchy title, eh? To be frank, Detroit needs to get its act together. Earlier this year, Toyota overtook GM as the world’s largest automaker. I can’t help but think that this change directly correlates to the long-term progressiveness of the companies. I’m not looking for a complete turnaround or anything; I just want to see visible progress. It feels like the auto industry in America has been perpetually stuck in the infancy stage of a major transitional era while consumers in Europe and Japan continue to enjoy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

After watching the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” I know that I will never buy another General Motors product for the rest of my life. Sorry, all of you Chevy drivers out there. If nothing else, it’s just bad business to not look toward the future. I know that GM has put more than $1 billion into hydrogen research, but they aren’t meeting the needs of today’s consumer base with any of those funds. Ask anyone in the country if they would like to get more miles out of a gallon of gas and they will resoundingly reply, “Yes.” Hummers might have been the quicker sell, but unless the new ones are packing batteries or fuel cells, most Americans aren’t biting the bait anymore. All the while, waiting lists for Japanese hybrids are increasing. Building great alternative fuel cars is not impossible either. Evidence: A biofuel-powered Aston Martin DBRS9 won the British GT championship race this year – proof that you can simultaneously go fast and go green, and all of that while still looking good.

Battling the inertia of the status quo in one of the biggest industries in America can be frustratingly difficult. But one way we as consumers can force a shift in the operation of this behemoth industry is to speak with our money. If we refuse to buy cars that punish us at the gas pump, then the automakers will invariably have to create a more efficient machine if they hope to survive. That’s what it comes down to – survival. Do American car companies deserve to survive if they can’t keep up with competitors? Well, I guess that’s a question of objective morality.

As a sidenote, if you happen to be perusing your way through the Internet and feel so inclined, you should take some time to check out these cool Web sites: www.worldchanging.com and www.autobloggreen.com (I swear I wasn’t paid to plug those sites – I wish that were the case). In other news, I really wish I could be at the Alternative Car Expo happening in Santa Monica this weekend. Oh well. Enjoy your weekend.

Ben Eckold is a business junior and a Mustang Daily environmental columnist.

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