Last Sunday morning, New Year’s Eve, I was in Naples, Fla., and it was 20 C. Sunday evening, I was back in Toronto and it was -20 C. That should explain what I was doing in Naples.
But there are other reasons to go to that southern American city, particularly if you like cars.
One is the Revs Institute, where more than 100 automobiles are on display. Built between 1896 and 1995, they make up a collection of extremely rare cars. Everything from an 1896 Panhard & Levassor Wagonette to a 1968 Porsche 907 to a 1988 Arrows A10B Formula 1 car is at the place.
Which is the good news.
The bad news is that the museum is only open three days a week, and you have to purchase your admission tickets in advance. No walk-ups; no exceptions. But if you plan ahead, you’ll find that the tour groups are small and you can get up close and personal with the cars. Translation: there’s nothing between you and machinery. Admission prices (there are categories) top off at $25 U.S., with children 8 and under free. For more information, go to revsinstitute.org.
Another reason Naples is a car lover’s delight is the main drag, Fifth Ave. It is open 24/7, 52 weeks a year. There is no admission (unless you are staying in one of the boutique hotels or dining in one of the many fine restaurants, all of which are expensive).
Although you might — might — see a 10-year-old automobile on that street, it would be a rare sighting as Fifth Ave. is really Millionaire’s Row and most of the cars either parked or on parade are brand new (or nearly). And breathtaking, to boot.
Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and so on are, literally, a dime a dozen. Range Rovers are almost de rigueur, it seems, as are Escalades. And Bentleys. You could lose count of the number of Bentleys. And all look like they’ve just been through a car wash. Bright, shiny, spit ‘n’ polished and not a speck of salt anywhere — or an indication that any of them has ever been anywhere near salt. It really makes you wonder why we all continue to live in this part of the world.
One thing was surprising, though. In the week I was there, I saw exactly one electric car, a Telsa Model S. Now, most of the hotels had electric golf carts — some stretched — that are licensed for the road (the speed limit on city streets in Naples is 25 mph, or 40 km/h) and are used to shuttle guests to and from the nearby Gulf of Mexico beaches. But so far as electrification is concerned, that seemed to be about it.
Now, Naples is not a big town. It’s getting bigger, but it’s nowhere near the size of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Tampa-St. Petersburg, or Orlando. And many, if not most, of the people who live there are retired, or rich, or both. (In fact, my favourite vacation pastime when I’m in Naples is to sit on the terrace at our hotel and keep count of the private jets as they land at the nearby Naples Municipal Airport …)
So, Naples should be — you would think — the perfect place for an electric-car breakthrough: a climate in which an electric motor could operate at peak efficiency, a compact community where there are really no great distances, an affluent population, etc. But no — at least not in my experience.
That doesn’t mean EVs aren’t in the news. Far from it. Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk, continue to get free publicity from mass media that seem to go crazy whenever he opens his mouth. Why this is so, I do not know. It is a mystery to me why somebody who does a lot of talking but hasn’t — on the grand scale — really done all that much gets so much attention.
The other day, for instance, the daily newspaper in Naples published a great, long story complete with photos about how Musk’s SpaceX private space corporation is planning to carry a Tesla Model 3 into orbit early this year (question: what does that have to do with the thousands of people who have paid deposits and are waiting to take delivery of that car, which is already late?). And Time magazine, in its year-end issue, called his electric transport truck announcement a “milestone,” conveniently forgetting (or, more likely, not being aware) that Mercedes-Benz had unveiled an electric transport truck prototype a year earlier.
That’s the thing with Musk. I give him credit for being the consummate public relations professional in the tradition of old-time press agents, but he also benefits from reporters who either don’t know their history or are so impressed with his every word that they copy it down and regurgitate it as gospel.
Take his hyperloop concept, which he first started talking about in 2012, in which people would travel between cities in an underground vacuum tube. First proposed for San Francisco-Los Angeles, he’s since been focusing on New York-Washington.
All very well and good, except Musk’s vision of underground travel is eerily reminiscent of lyrics from a 1982 song by Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) called “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World).”
On that train, all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris …
Which doesn’t mean that Musk can’t fantasize all he wants. But there has to be context — this is really not all that new, folks — and that’s what’s usually missing in the mountains of stories about him and his projects.
Primarily a benefactor of government largesse in the form of loans and grants, Tesla periodically posts profits but has never been an automaker in the tradition (and success) of Ford, GM, Nissan, etc. So, 2018 could — emphasis on ‘could’ — be a make-or-break year for the company.
If the Model 3 is finally delivered — late 2017 has now become mid-2018 — and turns out to be everything it’s been cracked up to be, then Tesla and the electric car industry generally will rock.
If delivery is delayed again, though, or customers give up waiting and demand their money back, it will not bode well for the future of that company and the electric car industry as a whole.
Also Read: Lamborghini – The Man, the Myth and the Legend
Speaking of government largesse, the Ontario Liberals have been huge boosters of electric vehicles and two years ago increased the amount of their consumer rebate to as much as $14,000 per car.
The way it works is that you go to a dealer and arrange to purchase the car. The dealer takes the amount of the subsidy off the top and then, after the sale is complete, makes an application to Queen’s Park for the rebate.
According to the November 2017 issue of Automotive News Canada, though, there has been a problem: the government has been taking months to pay the dealers and there are millions of dollars overdue.
One dealer, Chris Budd, who operates GM and BMW stores in Oakville, told the newspaper he was owed $780,000 and that GM dealers in the GTA alone were owed something in the vicinity of $2.3 million.
I’m sure this holdup isn’t for a lack of cash, and that additional personnel assigned to the file could clear up the backlog, but it does make you wonder about this government’s commitment. Governments — not just in Ontario, but elsewhere — have been talking about the importance of electrification of automobiles in the fight against climate change for what seems like forever, but some of them — and the Ontario one in particular — are curiously slow to put their money where their mouths are.
Huge parking garages that hold upwards of a thousand commuter cars have been built in the last 10 years, and yet there are — if there are any at all — only three or four spaces where EVs or hybrids can be plugged in.
And in the GTA alone, thousands of rental apartments and condominiums are being built that don’t have plugs in the parking places. You would think, if all of this is so important, that legislation forbidding the issuing of building permits for all those garages and condos without plug-ins would be a slam-dunk.
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