The conspiracy against green inventor Sam

Most folks know that using a 3,000-pound vehicle to move one person a few miles is wasteful. So why do all the innovative ideas to break this habit come from tinkerers and romantic inventors with names like Sam?

I can think of at least three quick reasons why existing automakers dont do that (I deliberately ignore sales: every Sam I ever met expected customers to simply line up outside his garage door with wads of cash).

One reason is the business case: automakers have a colossal investment in making sophisticated cars at a profit.

The second is demand. Tens of millions of customers like green ideas. But they buy vehicles that are multi-purpose, can carry whole families and sometimes bulky items, are comfortable, safe in crashes, move quickly and are prestigious.

But the third is complexity by regulation. The more mature an auto market is the more governments try to protect their citizens. They insist vehicle makers reduce emissions, add safety glass, airbags, seat belts, roll-over-resistant roofs, redundant systems, anti-lock braking systems, and meet crash standards. The EU adds sound-emission, pedestrian-protection, recycling and other regulations. Every rule adds weight and complexity.

So our Sam designs a 200mpg vehicle in his garage. At 800 pounds, itll carry two adults to the grocery store and mall and it has a bike rack. Very green. Proudly, Sam figures he can make for $6,000 a copy and retail it for $8,000.

But if buyers want to use public streets like going to the mall or work Sam must design, test, validate and install multiple airbags, emission controls, ABS, and a strong roof, of course. Every part faces official scrutiny. Does the fuel tank prevent evaporation, resist puncture, guard against spillage in a crash and can Sam prove it?

So the new manufacturing cost is, well, more. Now its Sam that is very green. And headed back to the garage to tinker some more.

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