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2006 04 17
Smart vs Dumb - Reprised
One of the online projects I'm involved with is a design/lifestyle/automotive publication called Driven Magazine. In the magazine's first issue the Editor, Michael LaFave, wrote at length about environmental sustainability being a goal of the automotive industry. Which is a noble ambition but if there is anything that my experience in aviation, architecture, design, art, and travel has taught me it is that systems and markets change only when there are better options available to the people who make those markets. So, when I read the story last week lamenting the loss of 10% of the Arctic ice cap, it scared the hell out of me, but my guess is that most Canadians didn't read about it. Even if they did the distance from their driveway to the arctic circle is just too great conceptually to connect the dots. The mass market choices available to them don't go out of their way to say that this eight mile to a gallon, three ton behemoth is helping kill the planet your children will inherit - do you want regular or premium?

That is why two recent events have given me hope. The first is the damage hurricane Katrina caused to the U.S. gasoline production infrastructure. When gas is $4.00 or $5.00 a gallon in Atlanta, people start looking for market options. The second is a Canadian inventor's hybrid hydrogen / gasoline injection system which will make conventional cars significantly more efficient and, as a result, less polluting. We drive a four cylinder car that boasts the lowest drag coefficient of any production automobile. Even with that as soon as the hydrogen injection system is available I'll get one installed. It will offer the single biggest environmental improvement to the automotive industry since the use of natural gas. More importantly, it can be used by almost everyone.

Other, less radical market choices are appearing. There are hybrid gasoline and electric cars like the Prius. But one of our favourites is the Smart car. We drove one last year while on a trip and were inspired by its great design, nimbleness, and fuel efficiency. Now they seem to be everywhere in Toronto. Design and innovation drives new markets and if there is one hope we can hold for the future of our environment it is that when given good choices people will do what makes sense. As designers our obligation is to make those choices as obvious as possible. Like Smart vs dumb.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 04/17 at 01:24 PM

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