The Century of the Car

For the developed world the car was the ultimate symbol of the last century. For the developing world it has been the ultimate aspiration which, many thought would come to fruition in this one. However just as Indians were thinking of the Nano as the model T Ford for India, albeit one century late, comes the economic downturn and many of these dreams seem to be turning to dust.
The pioneers of the automobile industry in Detroit are in dire straits. The mighty three automobile makers of the USA, all based in Detroit, are on the verge of closure To many , Detroit is the home of the automobile, and home to three of Americas biggest car makers: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. In the heady post World War II days they made as many as 80% of all the world’s cars. The Chief Executive of General Motors Charlie Wilson famously said “What is good for General Motors is good for America”.
These automakers spent the last two decades fighting all regulatory measures that were proposed by the different regulatory bodies and environmentalists who attacked their single minded preoccupation with gas guzzling SUVs when the rest of the world had already moved to smaller and more fuel efficient cars. The regulations were painted as a sort of attack on the so called American way of life. This way of life, to their mind, meant a reckless waste of non renewable resources and a total disregard for any views except their own. The Vice Chairman of General Motors, Bob Lutz was even a few years ago proclaiming that the theory of climate change was rubbish. In the last occupant of the White House they found a kindred soul. George Bush will be reviled for many things but it is likely that History will rate his work of damaging the environment as even more dangerous than his attack of Iraq looking for the imaginary weapons of mass destruction.
Today, I am glad to say that they are hoist on their own petard. With the rapidly emerging recession in the USA and a realization worldwide and even among the notoriously obtuse American public that a mad consumption of resources is counterproductive, there is no market for their gas guzzlers any more. And as they slept, Japanese car makers have gone ahead with the times and have captured the Auto market world wide as well as in the American home ground. Today the chiefs of the Big Three are in Washington with a begging bowl, even now implying that if they go down they will take the American economy with them.
Nearer home the sad fact is that it is now clear even to the blind that it is not possible for everybody to have a car. This will never be possible until a renewable source of fuelling personal vehicles can be found. (Or the world population drops to around 250 million)
It is absolutely necessary for city dwellers to resort to public transport. The need of the hour is to provide fast, comfortable and cheap public transport in all urban conglomerations. It exists in all major European cities, and this can and should be replicated worldwide. Subsidies, if needed, should be for these facilities, not for Detroit car makers whose management teams are so stupid that they could not see the writing on the wall though all intelligent car makers did. India also needs to reconsider whether we need so many car makers or indeed so many cars and whether we need to make a huge shift to public transport. Though we have a long way to go before we become as wasteful and as irresponsible as the Americans, our cars do not confirm to the most advanced pollution control norms. Also we are building more and more polluting diesel cars to pander to the needs of the rich who feel that they must become more Americanized. This mad race to emulate the Americans must stop, failing which we in Bengal are all likely to drown when global warming leads to a rise in sea levels which, according to scientists will lead to a major portion of Bangladesh and South Bengal going below the waves!

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