Saturday, June 13, 2015

Couldn't help but be reminded of the Stonecutter's Song

Where: American History Museum

When: through September 30, 2015

The Central Hall on the 1st floor of the American History Museum is turning into a display area for historic modes of transportation.  First, we had the Prairie Schooner, then the 1964 Mustang, now an electric car from the 1990s.  Plus, now that I think about it, the carriage Lincoln rode in the night he was assassinated.

The electric car is a concept almost as old as cars themselves.  I read somewhere (was it in Smithsonian magazine?) that the earliest car manufacturers had to decide between gasoline and electricity as the power source for automobiles, and opted for gas, as it was cheaper at that time.  The mind reels at thinking of how world history would have been different if they'd chosen electricity instead...  In any event, electric cars are starting to come into their own now, with hybrids a common sight on the roads, and Teslas available to those with plenty of ready cash.

In the 1990s, however, all of that was in the future, and electric cars existed, but weren't getting much traction (no pun intended).  In 1996, GM decided to make a few (1,117) electric cars and sell them in California, Arizona and Georgia.  By 2003, they canceled the project, as increasing costs led to decreasing demand.  Clearly, the EV1 (the car on display) was ahead of its time.  Of course, by 2010 the Chevrolet Volt made its way to market and enjoyed some success.

The thing that struck me about the EV1 is how it appears both old-fashioned and ultra-modern at the same time, a look I've decided to call "retro futuristic."  It's what I imagine people in the 1950s thought Americans would be driving in the 1990s.  Or, as Lisa Simpson put it about Epcot Center, "It's what the people in 1965 thought the world would be like in 1987."  In case you're wondering about the title of this blog entry, that's a Simpsons reference too.

Fun vocabulary fact I picked up while reading the notes: an invention is an idea for a new product; an innovation is actually creating the product and bringing it to market.

Verdict: If you'd like to get an up close view of an early electric car, this is the next best thing to a test drive.

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