Killing off gas cars, IndyCarnage in Nashville, and a nearly forgotten novel, ‘The Flivver King’

How long can failure continue without rigging the system to work on your behalf? 

The question arises after reading “Killing off gas-powered cars, a July 31 letter to the Los Angeles Times. The writer, Paul Scott, co-founded the electric-vehicle advocacy group Plug In America, which has plumped for EVs since 2008. 

Dency Nelson, co-founder of Plug In America, with the 1921 Milburn Electric brougham owned by Steve Pugh. A Tesla Roadster is parked behind them. 

Maybe I met Scott in September of 2012 during my coverage of National Plug In Day for The New York Times—an event at the Automobile Driving Museum, in El Segundo. It was a fun time, and I remember the festive atmosphere. 

Plug In America states its mission as “driv[ing] change to accelerate the shift to plug-in vehicles powered by clean, affordable, domestic electricity to reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Adoption of EVs is going slowly, with market-share at five percent of new sales–far behind the best-considered predictions made well before National Plug In Day 2012. 

When a plan goes awry, it’s time for arm-twisting. Perhaps the word “drive,” as delivered in PIA’s mission statement, should be replaced with “coerce.” Scott’s vision is that, after interfering in the marketplace to kill off sales of new internal-combustion vehicles by 2035, the “ground transport will be powered by an ever-greening grid.” 

I guess that means more solar arrays and wind farms placed on once-productive agriculture lands or on desert tortoise territory. Where solar fields go, nothing grows. 

Meanwhile, the oil and gas will just be used elsewhere. 

Scott may fume, but he can’t rely on persuasion based on merits as a way of making his vision a reality. Naturally, besides arm-twisting of politicians and bureaucrats, there’s also butting in at the personal level and shaming people. 

“Never buy a gas car again,” he exhorts, “and to the extent you have influence, don’t let your friends, family, coworkers or neighbors buy one either.” 

But if they do, report them to the party’s neighborhood committee or to Plug In America to have them excluded from all future opportunities. 

IndyCar photo

Carnage at Nashville: How much more?

IndyCar has one more year on its agreement to race in Nashville, but as we saw in Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Slog, the track is terrible. Let’s hope the series can get through another race there without calamity. 

After eight yellow flags, the Big Slog ended with a bunch of wrecked cars. Forty-five percent of the 80 laps were run under yellow. That’s disgraceful.

Rain had delayed the start of the race, and this TV viewer probably should have turned off the set and started reading the hundredth-anniversary edition of the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce. 

Congratulations to crafty Scott Dixon, above, who emerged from the meat grinder to win on old tires with a torn-up car, achieving a career milestone as second-winningest driver in series history. 

Upton Sinclair nailed it in his 1937 novel ‘The Flivver King’

“The little black beetles were out on all the roads, and were beginning to be known by pet hames: they were ‘flivvers,’ they were ‘jitneys,’ they were ‘tin Lizzies,’ or sometimes ‘Henrys.'”

Upton Sinclair, the author of the landmark 1906 novel “The Jungle,” was a mighty and feared writer when he took this census of road traffic for another, later novel “The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America.” 

The “black beetles” were, of course, Ford Model T cars. The VW Beetle was merely in the process of development in 1937 when Sinclair wrote “The Flivver King.”

In an unusual arrangement, “The Flivver King” was published by the United Auto Workers, and it is written in elegantly simple language. All characters are portrayed sympathetically, but the reader eventually sees how Henry Ford’s high ideals faded away and he became trapped inside his own company and fortune. 

I’d never heard of this novel and count it as quite a discovery. My more detailed review will follow. 

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