Friday, October 7, 2011

Clean Trasportation Exposition in Overland Park attempts to generate interest in alternative fuel vehicles

The world ain’t what it used to be. You know, just from the time I graduated high school in 1991 to now, the U.S. population has grown by 50-million people. Folks are living longer and longer, and babies are being churned out like crazy. I know when I drive to work, or go to the store, or stand in line at the pharmacy, or do whatever else it is that I do, there are times when I just think there are too damn many people around.

As someone who genuinely loves old cars, V8’s, racing, trucks, Corvettes, and other hedonistic things, this is a very disturbing trend. I mean, even I’m smart enough to know that if they still made new cars exactly like they did in 1968, the pollution, energy consumption, and overall damage to the planet would be unsustainable at this rate.

But Toyota Priuses and Nissan Leafs are just so—ugh. They’re such soulless, nerdy appliances that as car enthusiast I’m offended that they’re called “automobiles”. My right brain is completely disgusted by so many of these new little cars. And the whole idea of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle goes against everything that I love.

That market is very reactionary, too. If fuel prices go way up, many people will fork over the high premiums it takes to buy a hybrid or something similar. If they’re moderately up, they’ll buy things that are smaller or somewhat more efficient than what they currently own. If fuel prices are way down, they’ll buy the same trucks, SUV’s, and big cars they actually wanted all along.

With extraordinarily strict government fuel mileage standards on the horizon, in contrast with consumer demand, automakers are challenged with building clean, efficient vehicles that people actually want to buy. That means they have to develop this technology, and they need to get people excited about it.

So they have things like the Clean Transportation Exposition, which was held at the Overland Park Convention Center this week. Billed as “The Midwest’s premier trade show for alternative fuels technology,” this extravaganza of thrills was like the Goodguys Rod and Custom Show for alternative fuel vehicles.

OK, maybe “extravaganza” is a bit of an overstatement. When we got there, there were a handful of bored-looking representatives from places like the Kansas Soy Bean Commission and Midwest Green Fuel sitting in a small ballroom in the top floor of the convention center. This tweren’t no SEMA show.

Most of the action took place outside, where they had a ride and drive set up where people could test out some of these vehicles.

Ford was far-and-away the most conspicuous company there. They had an electric Focus on display in front of the ballroom, a huge semi in front of the building, and four or five things you could drive outside. They also had professional people to man the ride and drive. These people went to the trouble of dressing up, working an actual table, and answering questions.

I drove an electric Transit Connect. It was pretty much like other similar things like this that I’ve driven. Since it’s electric, you can’t tell it’s running when you start it, which is a little weird. It has lots of instantaneous off-the-line torque. And soon after you take off, it becomes an underpowered slug. But if you had a delivery fleet, and some way to keep these things charged up, I could see how this could save some money.

I like to think I have a handle on all the new cars and trucks that are out there, but there was something that I didn’t know anything about. A blue van was sitting there called the VPG MV-1. At first glance, it looks like a Chinese vehicle, with tinny build quality, goofy styling, and cheesy interior appointments. But actually, it was built in Indiana, USA by AM General, the same people that brought us the Hum-Vee. It was powered by a 4.6-liter Ford V8, and the example they had at the expo ran on compressed natural gas. This is a wheelchair accessibility rig, so don’t expect your plumber to show up in one for the time being. I would have liked to drive it just to say I did it, but whoever was supposed to be down there representing it must have gotten scared by all the Ford people and left.

There were also some golf carts, a Dodge truck that ran on B-20 Biodiesel, a truck or two that had been converted to run on propane, a Kansas City-built Smith electric truck, and a fancy natural gas-powered Kansas City, Kan., school bus with shiny chrome wheels.

So did this show make me more excited about the future of clean transportation? I don’t know about that. It might have been better from an enthusiasts’ standpoint if they had a Fisker Karma on display, or a Tesla in the ride and drive. Heck, even a Volt would have charged things up a bit. Get it, “charged”. Ha.

Still, it gets a guy to thinking about some of the new ideas out there, and reminds us that change is coming whether we want it or not. I hope the tepid turnout also reminds the automakers that it isn’t enough to make things clean and efficient, but cool vehicles still matter to people. Frozen yogurt wasn’t just popular because it was good for you. People actually liked the taste of it, too.

I took a few pictures while I was there. Here they are.

1 comment:

  1. You're right - there are too damn many people in this country...