Record companies don’t make music for me—if they did, Lady GaGa and Rihanna wouldn’t have careers. But automakers don’t always make cars for me, either. Just as I’m not going to download "Born This Way," I’m also not likely to buy a huge SUV like the Ford Expedition for the off-road adventures I don’t actually take. I figure at least two-thirds of the current-market cars completely pass me by, and the other third I can’t afford.
But I can easily imagine some cars I’d want to buy, if someone would just build them. I don’t even need royalty payments. Sure, some of these ideas are a bit fanciful entries, but I think most of them would actually sell if they were available. I’m not the only crazy person out there:
The Watt Motors EconoEV. Let’s face it, at a starting price around $32,000 (and climbing) electric cars are just too darned expensive. The problem is that battery packs are very costly, and it was somewhere decreed that EVs are supposed to have 100 miles of range. Let’s forget that, cut the pack in half, and offer the four-seat, four-passenger EconoEV at $20,000—with just 50 miles of travel in any direction. Most people, surveys show, don’t travel even 30 miles in a day, and this one would be ideal for urban commuters. An alternative would be the same car with a 100-mile pack, not sold as part of the deal but leased to consumers for $100 a month. You could probably buy in for a very affordable $15,000. Better Place is going to lease battery packs, and Nissan considered it for the Leaf.
The Practical Automotive GreenFamily Van. Why can’t I buy a hybrid minivan? I know everybody hates minivans, and Toyota even had to create a whimsical series of commercials to try and make them hip again. Believe it or not, Toyota began selling a hybrid minivan, the Estima, in 2001—but only in Japan. I saw one once. Toyota could hybridize the Sienna and sell it here, but adding gas-electric technology to one of the ubiquitous smaller minivans sold on the Japanese market (especially if 40 mpg or better is in the cards) might be more logical. All we need is a medium-sized car platform (Camry-sized, maybe) to build a lightweight minivan body around. Eureka, the ultra-fuel-efficient GreenFamily is born!
The People’s Car.
Other people have had variations of this idea, but only India’s Tata has put it into practice in the modern era (imperfectly, since some cars have spontaneously combusted). We need to build on the legacy of the original VW Beetle and the Citroën 2CV. Yves Béhar, who came up with the idea for the $100 laptop, also sketched out an idea for an open-source and affordable developing world transporter that would have the same bodywork front and back. Anyone could build it, using plans that, like Linux, keep getting improved by hackers. Once you free yourself from the hang-ups of design principles and patents, the sky is the limit. Unlike the Tata, this People’s Car would survive American crash testing, and with a three-cylinder engine (already under development at Ford) and a weight of not more than 2,000 pounds would provide safe and reliable $10,000 transportation. It can be done, and you wouldn’t have to live in the Third World to want one.
The Apple Motors iDrive.
I’m an insane music freak, but nobody makes cars that can accommodate my 50,000-song archive. Theoretically, nobody needs that much music. And, theoretically, I can plug in a hard drive with all my songs into a USB-enabled system like MyFord Touch or Toyota’s Entune. But if you do that the software gets all discombobulated, and hits you with a “not all songs playable” message. It’s a mess, and carmakers have had their problems with the finicky systems. So why not a car for people who don’t care about cars but really, really love music? Steve Jobs could design the thing, which means it would probably work perfectly. It needn’t cost a ton of money to turn a car like my Honda Fit into a great jukebox for extreme music listeners. Basic requirements: 16 speakers, insane wattage, a library of every great song ever recorded to the owner’s bespoke tastes. I know I can get any number of customizers to come up with this for me, but isn’t the niche big enough for a manufacturer?
Here are a few quick concepts:
The Versatile Leaf Car: Not a variant on the electric Nissan Leaf, this one is based on the expandable dining room table, with a center section that can be added only when needed.
The Food Channel Kitchen on Wheels: Self explanatory—why pay for road food, when you can cook in your car?
The Double-Decker: A minivan built on boat principles with a tight but usable sleeping compartment built under the four-passenger seating.
OK, now I have to stop before this gets too silly. But it’s Car Talk, so I’m permitted to go a bit nuts every now and then. In fact, it’s practically in the job description.