It isn’t often one gets invited to participate in a revolution of the future, but that’s just what OMSI
did. “Drive Revolution: The Future of Transportation
,” a car showcase at OMSI on Saturday, July 13, was our local science museum's way to allow the Big Three and their Eurasian cohorts to show off their vision of the four-wheeled “future of transportation” to bike- and transit-loving Portlanders. Without us, the sensible candle in the darkness of obsessive technophilia, who would keep these Ayn Rand-worshipping industrialists in check? Who would finish the tofu at the event’s well-stocked lunch buffet?
The future is flaunted in a cordoned-off row of the OMSI parking lot, easily identifiable because each and every hybrid, clean diesel and electric car had been backed into its space. Dozens of industry-proffered attendants—we were promised engineers, but they were really “spokespeople,” friendly, educated folk who had somehow escaped being new car salespeople with only a hint of grease on their palms—milled about, polishing their rides. Each had his or her pitch, and was eager to get me in the driver’s seat.
Little did they know that I’m an avid, possibly rabid Car2Go
user, daily zipping around town in those little blue-and-white pinnacles of achievement. I test drove a few of the all-electric cars to find out if these are the next bright generation of eco-friendly transport or just the inbred child of posturing and automaker marketing jargon.
2013 Chevy Volt
Does it feel like the future? An LED panel shows energy flowing from the battery to the transmission when accelerating and flowing back to recharge the battery when coasting. This is maybe advanced if you still think Blade Runner is futuristic.
What the PR people say: “As for what will still be around in five or ten years, I’d say either the Voltec powertrain or the app linkup that allows you to control your car from your smartphone.” - Michael Strapazon, Chevrolet spokesperson.
Car2Go Head2Head: A gas generator gives the Volt an extra couple hundred miles of range, but I’ve already reset the boundaries of my life to the Car2Go home area. Winner: Car2Go.
2013 Honda Fit EV
Does it feel like the future? The Fit EV has one of the better-designed displays, turning a satanic red when put into the more aggressive “Sport Mode.” Its 118 combined miles per gallon was the highest ever—for a couple months. How drearily unfuturistic.
What the PR people say: “It has the most advanced electric motor and battery available. And you can control the air conditioning and charging from our iPhone or Android app.” - Chris Martin, Honda spokesperson.
Car2Go Head2Head: Both have small wheels and a unique form factor that screams “early adopter!” But what am I supposed to do with all the Fit EV’s space? I only have one friend at a time. Winner: Car2Go.
2013 Toyota Prius
Does it feel like the future? It took a good three seconds after I pressed the Start button to actually turn on. I thought the future was supposed to be fast.
What the PR people say: “Lots of people are into hyper-miling. It’s a cult-like contest for who can hit the highest MPG. We’re proud of the seamless integration of our technology, including an app you can download.” - Mark Angelacos, Toyota spokesperson.
Car2Go Head2Head: It took an hour in the bathroom to clean that Prius smugness off my face. No thanks.
2013 Smart Electric Drive
An inimitable Car2Go at left, with the 2013 update at right.
Does it feel like the future? So it’s essentially an electric Car2Go with way better acceleration response and a convertible, eventually rain-permeable top.
What the PR people say: “You can customize all the colors, and even get a wrap if you want. We also have an iPhone app for navigation.” - Diedra Wylie, Smart spokesperson.
Car2Go Head2Head: Why do we need these new jalopies when we already have beautiful mini spaceships that greet us with hello and won't let us park on Mt. Tabor because they just know we've brought growlers with us and frankly we should just be day drinking in the safety of our own homes? Winner: Car2Go.
I have no idea what this car is, but it was asked to leave.
A smile and a warm greeting is all I need.
Toyota Prius image courtesy of Toyota. All other images by Mitch Lillie.