GM’s future of self-driving, electric cars: Just say no!

By WND Staff

By William J. Brotherton

In the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Total Recall,” Schwarzenegger’s character, Douglas Quaid, is on Mars and running from the police. To try and escape, he jumps into a “Johnny Cab,” a self-driving electric vehicle with a robot at the wheel. He tells the robot to “just drive,” but the robot refuses and tells Douglas that he must have a destination. The police are now shooting at the cab when Schwarzenegger’s character rips out Johnny, takes manual control of the electric vehicle and manages to escape.

I feel the same way about self-driving electric vehicles and ride-sharing. I like driving and love road trips, just like most Americans. And I’m not about to willingly give up my freedom to enjoy the open highway and drive where I want to when I want to. I’m not alone – 75 percent of Americans would use/own human-operated cars even if self-driving cars were common, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

The beautiful blond singer Dinah Shore instilled in me my love of driving, and especially road trips.

Dinah belted out “See the USA in a Chevrolet” in the early 1950s, as I sat mesmerized in front of our second-hand Zenith TV and watched Chevy Bel Airs travel through some of the most beautiful parts of the U.S. As she sang “America is the greatest land of all,” I fell in love with not only Dinah, but Chevrolets. Both of them gave me wanderlust that I’ve never lost.

But General Motors (GM), which gave us both Dinah Shore and Chevrolets, now wants to take our wanderlust away.

GM has slashed some 14,000 employees, announced plans to close seven factories and proclaimed that our new future will consist only of electric and self-driving vehicles along with, get this, ride-sharing. Just like what Schwarzenegger saw when he traveled to Mars.

Here’s how GM describes our future in corporate speak, telling us it is “Transforming the global enterprise to advance the company’s vision of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion.” I might also add Zero People and Zero Fun!

Who wants that except maybe urban millennials? I certainly don’t, and I speak as a lifelong GM guy, whose first vehicle was a 1959 Chevrolet Impala and my latest a 2017 Cadillac XTS. I couldn’t wait to get my learner’s permit at age 15, and I learned to drive on the family station wagon, a 1955 Chevrolet, of course. My dad was a GM guy too.

As part of this new future, GM is even phasing out the XTS, along with four other cars like the Chevrolet Volt, the car you might recall that Obama promised to buy once he left office but never did. All this so GM can concentrate on five “platforms” that are all either self-driving or electric, or both. Yikes!

Back when I was growing up, we named cars. They had personalities. Our family station wagon, a ’55 blue-and-white Bel Air with a 265 cubic inch V-8 engine, was called Jess. The car was named after my mom’s favorite horse on the Vermont farm she grew up on.

But who wants to name a platform, or an autonomous electric car?

Let’s face it. General Motors has made some mistakes over the years (think Corvair), and of course if it weren’t for the bailout during the Obama presidency, GM might not even exist today. Why in the world would we think that GM knows what it is doing now?

Sitting in my soon-to-be-useless driveway is Old Blue, a 1976 Chevy van I bought brand-new when Jimmy Carter was our new president, and he was starting to think that maybe every driver should keep it under 55 mph. I’ve put over 1 million miles on Old Blue, and I’ve driven it in all of the lower 48 states, much of Canada and a little bit of Mexico. I like driving the old girl even though it doesn’t have power steering or power brakes, and I have to manually shift the transmission using a leg hurting clutch. It’s a full hands-on workhorse you don’t dare make a cellphone call while driving!

I still drive the van quite a bit, and the Wall Street Journal wrote about Old Blue, titled “The Million Mile Van.”

Beside the fact that I don’t want to give up driving, I also don’t understand GM’s fascination with electric vehicles and ride-sharing. How in the world will we take road trips in GM’s future world when we have to stop for not only recharging but picking up and dropping off transient riders like an old Trailways bus? And answer this question as well – why in the world is an electric vehicle considered so environmentally friendly when the electricity it runs on comes from burning fossil fuels and its battery is an environmental nightmare?

So take your autonomous cars, your electric vehicles and your ride-sharing future, and send it back to the drawing board, General Motors! If you really want to do something smart, bring back the Oldsmobile, one of the best cars GM ever made. My 1991 Olds 88 got 35 miles to the gallon in luxurious comfort and was still running great when I sold it with over 350,000 miles on the odometer.

Let’s see one of GM’s new electric self-driving gizmos do that!

William J. Brotherton is a Texas/North Dakota attorney who taught environmental law for 12 years at Texas Christian University. A former railroader, he is the author of “Burlington Northern Adventures: Railroading in the Days of the Caboose” (South Platte Press, 2004).

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