30 Minutes I Can Never Get Back
Exploring the viability of alternative-fuel vehicles is essential to the future of transportation, but the EcoXperience ride in Detroit was truly uninspiring.
The sun has almost set on our time here at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We’ve written up all of the unveilings, covered the latest emerging trends and penned our picks for the top sheet metal on the show floor; in short, all the things you’d expect from MSN Autos.
Since idle hands are the devil’s playground (or so my mother used to say), I decided to wander down into the bowels of the Cobo Center to see what the EcoXperience was all about. This, instead of lumbering into the local pub for a cold pint to celebrate another successful show -- nothing good could really come from that.
As a big fan of alternative-fuel vehicles and their promise of a gasoline-free future, I believe the concept behind the EcoXpereince is a laudable one: to educate the public about hybrids, electric vehicles and any other propulsion technologies that are not solely reliant on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the exhibit just didn't deliver that message.
The EcoXperience is basically an indoor track surrounded by landscaped and forested terrain where the public can "ride in" (read: not actually drive) examples of the latest alternative-fuel vehicles. To give you visual reference, it's like a scene out of an old “Leave It to Beaver” television episode -- angelic and disturbing, all at once. Participants are treated to two or three laps around a quarter-mile path at blistering speeds of up to 5 mph; Space Mountain this is not.
On the plus side, there were more than a dozen alternative-fuel vehicles to "test ride," including models from Tango, CT&T, Think, Smart and GM, so one can actually get up-close-and-personal with a number of the alt-fuel technologies, if they so choose, and learn more about them, if they ask the right questions (otherwise, you get a rehearsed monologue from the driver of the vehicle you are riding in touting the benefits of the specific technology propeling the vehicle).
I was fortunate enough to take rides in two vehicles: a Chevy Equinox powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and the CT&T eZone all-electric vehicle.
The hydrogen fuel cell powered Equinox is nothing new, and because the possibility of hydrogen, hobbled by a lack of refueling infrastructure, actually functioning as a practical substitute for gasoline is remote at best, I was less than enthused by the experience. But my capable driver, Emily, was knowledgeable and entertaining, so the five-minute trip was a pleasant one.
The encounter, however, took a quick turn toward the bizarre when I climbed into the eZone. This low-speed electric vehicle (it is capable of speeds only up to 45 mph) is basically a high-end golf cart. The ride was as exciting as dining on egg noodles without any gravy; i.e., filling but utterly tasteless and hard to swallow. And I was treated to only one lap around the track. It took all of 30 seconds, not even close to enough time to get a flavor for the vehicle or have my questions about the technology answered. I was dumbfounded.
Struggling with what to say about the EcoXperience as I walked back to the MSN press room, the adjective that kept coming to mind was "Painful." Am I being snarky, somewhat patronizing? Yes, but for good reason: The automotive industry needs to develop alternative fuels and educate the public about them if it is going to survive; ideally, they should also excite the public while doing so. But the EcoXperience is not the way to achieve this. It was nothing but a cheesy novelty, and a poorly executed one at that.
For those of you saying, "Why can't you be more constructive?" I say: "Who do I talk to about getting those 30 minutes of my life back?" I mean, it's not impossible that my time would have been better spent tugging on a pint of Guinness and chatting up that friendly barmaid I met last night, right? Wait -- that does sound like a better use of my time. The devil wins every time.
See you in 2011.
[Photo by Rod Hatfield]
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