Red, White, and Blue…and Green?

Mitsubishi i Car

General Motors idea guy Bob Lutz appeared on the NPR radio show “On Point” yesterday. If you missed it, it’s well worth catching on the podcast: host Tom Ashbrook asks cogent questions, as do the other expert guests and the listeners who call in.

Now, we talk a lot about green driving and environmentally friendly design here at CarGurus, so sometimes I take that perspective for granted. But when I heard Bob Lutz — Bob Lutz, the guy who dreamed up the Dodge Viper! — talking about this on the radio, it seemed like an important moment in a cultural paradigm shift.

But in a week that started with George W. Bush talking about climate change and emissions targets, it seems like anything can happen. Sure, the President’s stance at the G-8 summit didn’t make environmentalists happy, but compared to his “Global warming? What global warming?” stance of just a few years ago, it’s clear that things have changed a lot in a very short time.

And so back to Bob Lutz. As you might expect, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the Chevrolet Volt, the plug-in wondercar coming in 2010 (we hope). But Lutz also addressed overall fuel-efficiency initiatives, the challenge of providing power and size without guzzling gas, and the future of the U.S. auto industry.

“And not a moment too soon,” you might be saying. You’d be right, of course, but until Detroit comes up with a workable time machine, all we can do is move forward from where we are. The American automotive-industrial complex is a big, unwieldy contraption that can’t turn on a dime (h’mm…perhaps this explains the Ford Explorer and the Cadillac Escalade?) and, to be honest, I’m surprised at how quickly the mindsets of consumers and manufacturers alike are changing.

And yet, I somehow doubt we’re ready for the Mitsubishi i Car quite yet. This nanocar has been a megahit in Japan; next week, Mitsubishi will start selling a limited run of the tiny car in the United Kingdom. Priced at a bit over 9,000 pounds, and getting more than 56 miles to the Imperial gallon (that’s 47 miles per gallon US if you don’t have a calculator handy), the i Car’s hotter than a Page Three girl in a sauna.

But will we ever see it on U.S. streets? Stranger things have happened; and after all, who would have thought, back when the SUV was king, that there’d be more than 25,000 Mini Coopers sold in the U.S. every year?

As for me, I’m trying to make our Honda Civic last as long as it can. Maybe my next car will be a Chevy Volt!

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