Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hybrid and Electric Cars: Confusing "Less Bad" with "Fantastic"

An advertising trend has developed in recent years in which car companies fantasize that wild animals endorse their more or less fuel-efficient cars. Here’s one of them:

As you can see, the Hyundai Sonata has a lot of things going for it: Adorable animals! Salt-N-Pepa! Voice-over by “The Dude”! Or maybe it’s that Crazy Heart guy, but whatever! It’s great! And the animals themselves are excited about the car because not only is it “easy on the environment,” but it’s also “easy on the eyes.”

Sadly these critters may eventually find out that the electric power helping to propel hybrid cars does not, in fact, grow on trees. It comes from power plants that generally are not easy on the eyes or the environment.

Get up on this!

Actually that's not really true. It's the fully electric cars that are plugged into the factory-fueled power grid to recharge, while a hybrid's engine draws electricity from a battery pack that is recharged every time you drive the car. So maybe the forest animals have good reason to celebrate—as long as it's a hybrid and not an electric car roaring through their habitat.

Even so, it seems a little presumptuous to decide what kind of car the bears and prairie dogs approve of. I mean, maybe they'd be at least slightly concerned about the toxic chemicals leaking from the car's battery pack after it reaches the end of its life and ends up in a landfill? Ahh, but there's no way I'm going to out-hippie Jeff Bridges, so I'll just take his word for it here.

Meanwhile, in places like Kentucky—where Mountaintop Removal Mining extracts the fossil fuels that are used to make the electricity that powers the growing number of electric cars—the woodland creatures are too busy avoiding earth-scalping explosions and looking for uncontaminated drinking water to get excited about a car that finally gets good gas mileage. (Sure, it sounds benevolent, but it turns out Mountaintop Removal isn't all that good for the mountains.)

Anyway, there's no denying that hybrid cars are a step in the right direction. Electric cars, too, are surely an improvement over the gas-guzzlers that have yet to relinquish their grasp on our driving populace. Electric vehicles provide an opportunity, though not a guarantee, to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels—making good on that opportunity still requires charging the car with electricity produced through alternative (aka "Bambi-approved") processes instead of the usual (aka "earth-raping", "Bambi's-mama-killing") methods. If you drive a fully electric car in the U.S. you will slightly reduce the amount of greasy oil money going to tyrants and oligarchs on the other side of the world, but in place of that you're contributing to the flaying of those purple mountain majesties here in your own back yard. (Unless you happen to be Ed Begley, Jr.)

Blight on Bald Mountain

Now before I get too far off track, it's worth noting that the furry, bumbling animals in the Hyundai ad can't rationalize all these complex environmental issues. But by that same token, they can’t rationalize anything to do with automobiles at all—which brings me to my real issue with the Hyundai ad: whether powered by gasoline, electricity, coal or fairy-farts, as far as the woodland creatures are concerned, a car is nothing but a death machine.

In fact I suspect the attention all the animals are paying to the Sonata cruising through the forest isn't so much excitement as it is vigilant dread. Unless being clumsy and falling off a tree stump is a sign of approval in the animal world.

The creatures in this Jeep Liberty ad, on the other hand, are positively joyous:

That SUV is lucky if it gets 20 miles per gallon, and the commercial makes no claims of environmental friendliness, so I'm not sure what those critters are so happy about. Though based on their supernatural singing abilities I must assume they're the ghosts of all the animals he's run down while joy-riding through the woods. So much for "Rock Me Gently."

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