“The Chinese Sputnik”?

A real priority for our nation, for the globe should be moving ever more toward an electrified society with electrified transport (whether train, car, or otherwise).  There is no doubt that from today forward, every day will see fossil fuels for transportation getting dirtier (especially true with ‘oil’), as it will be harder to find (e.g., more energy burnt to extract it) and likely of lower quality than what was burnt through the 20th century.  And, at the same time, there is no doubt that the opportunity, the possibility that electricity will be cleaner every day forward.   And, electricity is fungible — both in production options and in potential uses.

A question is, well, will America be able to seize a leading position in this critical arena as part of a path to Energize America toward a Prosperous, Climate Friendly Society.  Will we achieve this shocked into action by others?  Or, will it remain simply beyond US?

Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security had a provocative piece in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle: On American Innovation: The Chinese Sputnik

Fifty years ago, America panicked upon learning of the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik. The Communist spacecraft orbiting the Earth was a stern wake-up call, shaking the collective sense of American invincibility and bringing Americans to realize that they were no longer the masters of missile and space technology. Indeed, it was a national humiliation: The Russians are ahead of us. We are behind.

For many with their eyes open, the image of America as such a world leader seems far more stained today than 50 years ago.  Education?  We won’t even let our top students top students compete internationally (and, well, the US doesn’t look so great using non-test based ways of comparisons).  Economic growth?  Balance of payments? International good will?  Health Care? Currency value? This is not meant as a “bash America” line, but one has to wonder how one can be rational and live in bubble of the omnipotent United States. And, well, Luft speaks to this with a key point.

Today, with plummeting currency, heavily in debt, deadlocked in Iraq and facing growing international antipathy, we are at a new moment of self doubt, unaware that another Sputnik is in the making. This time the surprise, also coming from a Communist country, will not be in the sky but on the ground. Our next Sputnik is the Chinese automobile soon to roll onto America’s roads.

Is the United States ready for the car marked Made in China (even though so much is already originating there)?

Luft points out that Chinese cares are getting better, closin in on passing US safety and environmental standards.  

It could take as little as a decade for China’s auto industry to become competitive with Western manufacturers. Once this happens, ailing Detroit could be on the ropes.

What does Luft warn could be that knock-out punch?

A car capable of achieving over 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, and a per mile cost saving of 80 percent, at the price of a gasoline-only car could be China’s Sputnik – and it’s coming soon to the showroom near you.

If Detroit won’t produce climate-friendly transportation and Toyota will fight alongside Detroit to keep fuel economy standards from budging in the right direction, what is the problem with China answering the Globe’s call for efficient personal transport?

Economy? Economic strength? Good jobs? The chance to
Energize America on our own terms via an Apollo Alliance that will create a Green Wave?

China is now on track to provide our auto and energy sectors with what the Soviets provided our weapons and space industries – a jolt. If a Chinese Sputnik is what’s needed to awaken Detroit and Congress to boost investment and speed up the commercialization of vehicles that run on clean and cheap nonpetroleum fuels, then so be it.

Luft is, perhaps, more confident than I.  Once the stage is set, once the Chinese are firmly on it, what is the possibility that an enfeebled America will be able to climb the podium to emerge ahead of the pack?

We are enfeebling ourselves in our self-destructive path on energy. We are making it harder, every day that SUVs dominate the personal transport market, to move toward a Climate Friendly future. And, with this, we are weakening our potential for economic prosperity in the future.

Personally, I hope that we do not require a Chinese Sputnik. That Detroit (and the nation) wakes up to the value and potential for going toward high-energy efficiency via electrification of our transportation and that the Chevy Volt is in our driveways before the Chinese Jolt arrives in America’s showrooms.

Ask yourself:  Are you doing
your part to


Are you ready
  to do your part?


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