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India’s Tata – and China Should Lead The World – Build a $2000 Electric Car!

By Frank Byronn Glenn — Speaking as a guy who bought a  three bedroom house with a big, wooden fenced yard in a nice neighborhood in Ft. Collins, Colorado 1974 or ’75, for $24,000.  I am  perennially shocked at the sticker prices on cars and trucks  these days.  I grew up on a farm in Southeastern Colorado, made my summer and week-end money working on a farm outside of Holly, Colorado, learned to drive in a beat-up pickup, and have loved pickups ever since.  I stunned to discover every time I check one out, that to get a pick-up with any get up and go — with any serious gravitas, with a crew cab — you’re going to start out at around $35,000 dollars and go quickly up from that.  It’s hard to consider spending that kind of money on a vehicle — when you bought a house at one time in your life for a little more than half that!

So it warmed my heart a few years ago to pick up the paper and read that Tata Motors of India had just introduced a $2000 dollar car into its domestic auto market.  In reading further, though, my elation quickly subsided.  The car, I learned, would be powered by an internal combustion engine.  I couldn’t believe it.

After all the hand wringing about the arrival of peak oil, the furious battle for fossil fuels world wide as the developing countries industrialized, modernized and moved into the main stream of life on planet earth, Tata Motors just poured (forgive the almost double-entendre) gasoline on the fire.

Why — on a planet that is dying from carbon dioxide poisoning,  if its doesn’t die from industrial toxins and carcinogens in the soil and water  first — would one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, in the second most populous developing country in the world, manufacturer and bring to market a car so inexpensive that  hundreds of millions of new buyers — people that could not previously afford their own personal vehicle — could now run out and plop down a portion of their modest incomes  — or pledge their long term meager monthly earnings toward the purchase of a $2000 Tata Motors vehicle on on the easy payment plan — when one of the central contributors to climate change and the portending death of the planet is combustion engine, fossil fuel devouring, now soon to be omnipresent personal automobile.

I enthralled with the serendipity of the idea years ago when I read  that Ford Motor Company had invented automobile financing with the introduction of the “56 for ’56″promotion in Philadelphia Ford sales district,.  The idea was that instead of walking in and laying down your hard-earned and frugally saved money for a new car, you could now walk through the door to a Philadelphia are dealership with no money in pocket, sign a few papers, and drive away in a brand spanking new car. In that I am an American, it wasn’t hard to figure out why auto financing quickly spread to all Ford sales regions in the country — and then through all dealerships for all makes and model in the country.  And so, installment purchasing of consumer goods was born.

At the time,  I was intrigued at the genius of the idea.  Apparently it was the brain child of Lee Iacoca, who introduced the scheme to resuscitate lagging sales in Phildelphia sales region of Ford that he had recently assumed responsibility for. It worked so well that it wasn’t long before Ford Motor called him to Ford Headquarters so he could share the love — and the genius.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back now, though, I realize that installment purchasing plans for automobiles was probably the death knell for public transportation.  Possibly the beginning of the death knell for the planet.  There was just too much money to be made by auto manufacturers, banks, investors, insurance companies, suppliers, accessories stores, and repair and service shops.  It became, substantially, the real business of America.  Cars — and fossil fuel to power them.  And it was so inexpensive, convenient, and so instantaneous at the time that it was irresistible for Amerian consumers as well. And in the glory years of America’s industrial power, autos drove the machine.  And Americans who were prospering, ultimately had multiple automobiles.  Women went to work — they had to have a car.  There was a family car, for work and vacations, then a more rugged car or truck for carrying, hauling, transporting — and of course 4-wheeling, hunting and fishing.

So here we are now.  At the cross-roads of the decisionpoint of whether or not the planet can survive — and pessimists among us say we have already irretrievably passed the tipping point.  We have reached peak oil — and now we have the emergence of billions of new people moving toward or into the consumer middle-class.  The competition for ever scarce resources has reached a fever pitch crescendo — potentially driving prices sky-high — and Tata Motors, rushing to the rescue of the poorest, teeming masses, adds, potentially, a few billion more internal combustion, fossil fuel consuming, carbon dioxide creating, soil and water polluting automobiles into the market in which heretofore most of the people simply did not have the economic capability to join the suicide planet contamination destruction parade.

Please Tata — and please China — think beyond this years financial statements and executive bonuses, that elusive third villa — this time in the south of France — and as rapidly as you possibly can build an electric, non-polluting $2000 car for the next 3 or 4 billion people who will join the economy and be able to afford personal transportatiion.

And in the United States — please take a huge chunk of that so-called “national defense” largess and invest it in the true “national defense” and the tragically needed “planetary defense’ — and build mass transit lines that criss-cross the U.S. and the globe — with sanely designed business and residential communities conveniently located along these efficient and sustainable lines of transportation.  Let’s begin an egalitarian, life and planet sustaining, resurrection and renaissance of the American way of life — and lead by example and with the power of our example and resources to create anew a sustainable form of human transportation and commerce on the planet.