Getting up to speed is easy; it’s the sudden deceleration that poses all the problems.
With what seems like the newspaper version of a straight face, The New York Times recently reported that a whole group of new electric cars available to the general public will be able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in “under 6 seconds.”
This kind of lightning speed is a standard metric in almost auto reporting. But why should we need to know? We’d be better advised to consider whether the brakes in these cars might work to control the inevitable fish-tailing of drag-race speeds.
Five or six seconds is about the amount of time I need to even think about moving. Short of a possible once-in-a-lifetime close call, is there any reason a motorist would want to put that metric to the test? Perhaps in front of your house? Maybe near a school? How about the parking lot at the supermarket? It may be different for you, but we have critters and walkers in our neighborhood who are used to having more time to get out of the way.
The argument that freeway on ramps require G-force acceleration is often bogus. Most are designed to be long enough to allow drivers time to adjust and safely fit into the flow of traffic. On an interstate near my house some merge lanes are a good half-mile long.
Auto writers seem to exist on another plane, where useful statistics are too routine to bother with. Useless statistics are another matter entirely. This kind of breathless reporting is so common we hardly notice. Truth is, this kind of acceleration trivia is part of a much bigger pattern of mostly male-centered references to tired tropes of masculinity. Muscle-car culture is getting to be pretty old-school. We should really know how efficient a car is in city traffic, where average speeds on weekdays barely reach into the thirties.
For the record, I could probably go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds. But it would require stepping off a cliff. Getting up to speed is easy; it’s the instant deceleration that poses all the problems. That’s true of cars as well, as an any number of drag-race videos demonstrate. Surely everybody loves a responsive vehicle. But how many have an interest in trying to turn theirs into a rocket? (OK, how many over 40?)
I noticed that the usual guy reporting on cars for the Times seems to be gone. He did lots of videos of new models cruising sanely around his West coast neighborhood, gently corning at speeds you and I would recognize as sensible. I hope he wasn’t replaced because he was too practical.
To get real about climate change means thinking differently, and moving beyond amazement at the remarkable start-up torque of electric motors. This feature is impressive, and electrics will surely send internal combustion engines and transmissions to museums. But, all things considered, it seems useless to continue to enshrine jackrabbit starts in the rhetoric of auto reporting.
By the way, I think I could get my wheelbarrow up to 60 mph in less than 30 minutes. But I would need the help of more wheels, and maybe Lombard Street in San Francisco. But that would be bizarre, and completely meaningless.