If anything can be predicted about a documentary production, it's that the
final program will be different from the show the filmmakers envision as they
write the initial script. Inspiration strikes in the midst of filming, taking
scenes in entirely new directions. Experts being interviewed say and do
unexpected things. After months of research, producers Joe Seamans and Janet Smith drafted a script to guide them as they took their camera crew into the field. The following prologue and summary of scenes is adapted from that
Bear in mind, things can—and will—change. It's part of what makes
documentary filmmaking a wild and exhilarating ride.
Locks chirp. People get into their cars. Doors slam. Engines rev. Faces peer
through windshields. Cars converge from driveways and parking lots to roadways,
highways, and interstates—leading to epic aerial images and time lapse of
traffic flow and congestion. With "Car Talk" Guys Tom and Ray Magliozzi as our
guides, we ponder the big picture:
When we get into our cars and close the doors, we enter a very private space.
Driving is something as personal as our underwear. But looking down from above
gives us another perspective. In the U.S. alone, there are 200 million people
with a license to drive wherever it is they want to go. Together, in
pursuit of our happiness and livelihoods, we consumed about 150 billion gallons
of gasoline last year.
But every day as we drive along, two problems grow. The first is where gasoline
comes from, and the second is where it goes. There's debate over how much oil
is left and how to keep it coming, but if things continue as they are, it will
disappear. What's more, out of sight under the hood, burning gas creates carbon
compounds that enter the atmosphere and are changing the climate. You may not
have voted for Al Gore, but he's not making this up. The Earth is getting
Most of us push these unsettling thoughts to the backs of our minds. Some
people don't. What they see on the horizon is not the end of the road, but
challenge and opportunity. This community of scientists, entrepreneurs, and
engineers is on a quest to innovate so that all of us can hang onto something
we desperately want—to keep on truckin' down the road into the future.
Show Title: Car of the Future
Note: Throughout the program, in addition to meeting various
"characters" as Tom and Ray visit laboratories, auto shows, and elsewhere,
we'll hear from a group of experts interviewed separately. (See expert
participants for a tentative list.) These experts will offer an overview of
the problems, analysis of the technologies and policies that can solve them,
and a realistic timetable for change.
AltWheels: Creating a New Future
An odd assortment of vehicles is on parade. Their bumper stickers suggest what
it's all about: MPG not SUV, Biodiesel: No Drilling Required, My Car is a
Vegetarian Too! But AltWheels is not a love-in for car-haters; in fact, Ford,
GM, Honda, and Toyota are a few of the sponsors, and some of their hydrogen,
hybrid, and flexfuel concept cars are in the parade. At the AltWheels
convention, Tom and Ray will peruse cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, solar
panels, biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, even gasoline—diverse
technologies we'll explore in-depth later in the show. They'll joke around with
alt-vehicle fans but also ask some hard questions. No alternative technology
seems the magic bullet. And there are many obstacles to the wide-scale adoption
of new breeds of vehicles.
Hydrogen: The Magic Genie?
If carbon was the energy genie for the last century, will hydrogen keep us
moving through this new millennium? With archival stills and film, we'll look
at the history of hydrogen fuel cells, from the 1830s—when a Welsh
physicist combined oxygen and hydrogen in a cell with platinum electrodes and
generated electricity and water—to the space age—when fuel cells
powered the lunar module that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. At the L.A. Car
Show, Tom and Ray will see some of the latest efforts of automakers like GM to
capitalize on hydrogen. And they'll also travel to Iceland, a country powered
by renewable hydro- and geothermal power, to explore the challenges of
transitioning to fuel-cell vehicles.
Ethanol: Homegrown Gasoline
Since prehistoric times, we've poured ethanol down our throats in the form of
alcohol. A hundred years ago we started pouring it into the fuel tanks of Model
Ts, but ethanol couldn't compete with cheap, available gas. Now it's making a
comeback. Ten percent of the stuff we put in our tanks is ethanol because it
makes gas burn cleaner. When we raise the number to 85 percent, carbon
emissions drop to near zero. E85 can be used without changing much under the
hood—good news for carmakers. And ethanol comes from plants that can be
harvested in our own backyard. But as we learn from Lee Lynd, biofuel guru at
Dartmouth, and others, the economics of ethanol are uncertain, and ethanol
production has environmental pitfalls of its own. Should we rely on corn and
sugarcane or look to other candidates like switchgrass, a native perennial of
the North American prairie? Before we turn into a nation of grass-guzzlers,
technical hurdles need to be leaped.
Gasoline: Doing More with Less
Since new energy sources don't seem ready for prime time, why not develop
engines that use less gas? At MIT's Automotive Research Lab, Tom and Ray meet
engineers intent on doing just that. Lab director John Heywood notes that over
the last 25 years, engine efficiency improved 30 percent, but rather than boost
average fuel economy, the advances were used to make heavier, higher
performance cars. We learn more about how internal combustion engines work,
and how Heywood's team is trying to increase their efficiency. Whether their
innovations will be used to create more muscle or more mileage is unclear.
Heywood believes that market forces alone are unlikely to curb our appetite for
oil. Like many, he thinks "feebates"—where a customer pays an extra fee
to buy a gas hog but gets a rebate if she buys a gas-sipper—might be part
of the solution.
Hybrids: Two Is Better Than One
Larry David is no macho man and neither is his Prius, but seeing him buzz
around Hollywood in his hybrid on Curb Your Enthusiasm may indicate
change is in the wind. Hybrid cars are as efficient as John Heywood's
experimental engine, and they've been on the market for over 10 years. We learn
how hybrid vehicles work, and how engineers aim to take them one step further.
With Andy Frank at U.C. Davis, we test-drive a GM Equinox retrofitted as a
plug-in hybrid. Right now, an overnight charge will let him drive 50 miles without using any gas. He says that if he could go farther, he'd drive a car that's all electric.
Electrics: Off the Pump and Onto the Grid
When roads were scarce and driving distances were short, electric cars outsold
all other types of cars. That was in 1899. Until we have better batteries,
electric cars will remain tethered in a wireless world. Recent innovations in
battery technology have been driven by demand from Silicon Valley, and now a
group of entrepreneurs from the computer and information technology industry
have adapted these batteries to build a new car that is causing a lot of buzz.
Tom and Ray take an exhilarating ride in the Tesla Roadster, a sports car
that's as green as a bicycle, and meet Tesla developer Martin Eberhard, a
dotcom success who is determined to change the way people drive.
Lightweighting: It's the Mass, Stupid!
We dissolve from the red Tesla to a tiny blue Honda Insight hybrid winding down
a country road. Inside is Amory Lovins, a physicist and independent energy
guru. He says that most people look at what's under the hood, but the real
story is what's on the outside. The Tesla body is made of carbon fiber, which
is much lighter than steel. Lovins developed his own lightweight vehicle, the
Hypercar, to change the physics of how we drive. The concept is called
lightweighting. Like the Tesla, Lovins' Hypercar prototype is carefully crafted
by hand like a piece of art. For carbon fiber vehicles to become affordable,
they must be mass-produced, and Lovins is determined to find ways to do it.
Will one of the projects Tom and Ray have glimpsed be the next "flying car?" Or
will they and their offspring become as indispensable as the cup holder on our
dash? And will some come sooner than others? One thing seems clear. Without
enthusiasm and a creative spark, there is no innovation. And without
innovation, there's no change. Change always brings risk, but so does driving
down the same old road hoping we can step on the gas forever. With our support
of this great transition, we may be able to keep the dream of mobility alive
long into the future.
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