“The times, they are a changin'”
Fifty years ago a young man with a nasal intonation sung a rather catchy song “Times they are a changin'”.
For over a century the automobile industry captured the imaginations of the public and sold us a dream of personal self fulfillment – if and only if – we quickly ran to the nearest car dealership and bought the latest model. Governments from the right to the left bought into this fantasy and promised us that Nirvana is ours but only if more of our resources were invested into building additional roads, bridges, parking lots and gas stations at every corner. Most importantly we needed bigger and more powerful cars.
I recall less than two decades ago a high ranking official of the Chinese government was irritated with a western consultant who suggested that China should not follow the western model and create a society based on the car industry. The concept the consultant was suggesting was that China should build an infrastructure to move people, not cars. The irritated minister simply declared, “the western economies were built on the car and so will the Chinese”. The joy of that decision can now be felt in every Chinese city.
But when Forbes, the leading business magazine in the USA publishes an article called “The secret fear of the world’s biggest auto companies” you know that something is happening out there. What may you ask is the secret fear? You probably have heard of something called Peak Oil production. It appears that the big car manufacturers are secretly worrying that the auto market have reached Peak Car production and it is downhill from now on. And why so? It may be just simply because more and more people are beginning to realize that the world is on the verge of world gridlock and the young are now no longer buying into the illusions marketed with millions of dollars in commercials during the Super Bowl.
This is pure music to the ears of cyclists. Some of us have spent decades trying to convince decision makers that a better life means less cars and more bike paths. So to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama, who when Soviet Union fell apart, wrote a famous book titled The End of History. “Is this it? Are we right? Did we win? Is it time to go and cycle the 7Epics?”
Of course, 1992 was hardly the “End of History” and an animal cornered will do anything to survive, so I suspect the automobile industry like cigarette manufacturers still have a few tricks up their sleeves. The author of the Forbes piece, Micheline Mynard, had this to say. “Auto companies, who are used to playing on peoples’ emotions and sense of independence, now have to find new ways for consumers to consider making cars part of their lives.” After years of brainwashing us that we all need an automobile with five empty seats and then decades of trying to convince us that their model is more suitable than the other manufacturer’s, the car industry is now facing a real challenge – needing to convince more and more of us that in spite of all the costs and the hassles a car brings, we still need to spend thousands and buy a car that will sit empty and unused – on average 22 hours per day.
So what is the biggest fear of the automobile industry? Well, according to Ms. Mynard, car manufacturers like the cigarette manufacturers may no longer be able to sell us illusions.
And what is the moral of the story? Of course, we here at TDA have plenty of illusions of our own, which sometimes we even try to peddle. As a famous T shirt from the sixties said (yes, some of us are that old) and with a little paraphrasing; ‘we have given up the search for truth, we are now just looking for a good fantasy’. So what a better fantasy to flog than cycling the 7Epics.