Tomorrow’s Car?

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2008

"Welcome to Madame Nellie's. You have paid for three questions you want answers to. What is your first question?"

"Your sign out front didn't say anything about a limit. What's with three questions?"

"House rules. That answers the first question. What else do you want to know?"

"Wait a minute. You can't impose arbitrary limits on a customer's questions. I want you to look into the future and tell me if present trends in crude oil supply and demand will continue. Your answer will determine what type of car I buy. What's with three questions? You sound like a genie granting wishes."

"House rules. You have used your second question. Madame Nellie is wearying of this. Your third question, please."

"This is ridiculous. Let me be careful how I phrase this. The base premise is that I want to buy a car with fuel efficiency, seating for five, reliability, durability, safety, decent handling and performance in typical city and highway driving conditions, all for less than $20,000. I'd like a proven car, too, one that doesn't command a premium price because it's a hybrid, or is experimental in some way. Just a really good, bread-and-butter car that looks great and meets my needs."

"You are a wordy one. What is your question?"

"What should I buy if crude oil supply can't meet demand and speculators drive up prices for their personal enrichment and Saudi Arabia is raking in $1 billion a day and I spent my economic stimulus check a long time ago and Ross Perot is showing us charts again and...."

"Get hold of yourself. Madame Nellie cannot concentrate in a stressed environment."

"I'm sorry. The world seems to be closing in on me. Food costs. Fuel costs. Everything's going up but personal income. It's stagflation all over again."

"Madame Nellie will look into her crystal ball now. There are fogs of uncertainty in there, but Madame Nellie is beginning to see the outline of ... a 2009 Toyota Corolla."

".A Corolla..."

"Yes. It is beautiful, not the frumpy Corolla you might remember from years past. Just as the Honda Civic has become more like the Accord of old, the Corolla has become more like the Camry of a few years back. The 2009 Corolla is bigger, smoother, more powerful and much better looking.

"Oh, no. Away with you ... The face of Hugo Chavez just drifted through the crystal ball. Not a good omen. And there's that Iranian leader who wants nuclear weapons. And rebels in Nigeria torching another Shell outpost and China telling the world that 'We'll buy all fuel you have' and... wait, I see the Corolla coming into focus again.

"Madame Nellie thinks you will like 30 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg around town. You might not like the price at the pump, but you'll buy the least expensive regular gasoline for this beautiful car.

"The Corolla is powered by a four-cylinder engine, and why do you need more when they only demand more gasoline? Eight cylinders? Twice the hit on your wallet. You don't need that in today's bumper-to-bumper traffic.

"The Corolla has two bucket seats in front and a bench that seats three kids across the back. The trunk is roomy enough for a family's weekly grocery load, paper or plastic, and don't even get Madame Nellie started on the increases in food costs! Outrageous.

"The base Corolla starts at $19,950, so it fits your budget, but Madame Nellie advises you to select a few options that will make your time with this car more pleasant. For instance, a navigation system with a map on the center dash will add $1,300.

"Madame Nellie also suggests you pamper yourself with a leather package for $1,490. That makes the little Corolla as luxurious inside as a Cadillac. A final option you might want is called the Power Package. Power everything—windows, remote keyless entry, that kind of stuff. On more expensive cars it's standard, but this is still an 'economy car,' remember.

"Toyota does not skimp on safety features and you will be pleased to know the 2009 Corolla has front and rear air bags and a full-length head curtain. It also has halogen headlights for superb visibility of the road ahead at night.

"Of course, you will have air conditioning included in the base price; along with a whiz-bang audio system that can play MP3s. Cruise control is standard.

"In summary, this is a car you can comfortably live with until new diesel cars come out in 2010 and new electric models become widely available in 2012 and hydrogen cars hit the road in 2015. Madame Nellie sees all of these options coming as the crude oil supply is used up. Madame Nellie regrets to say she does not see a return of $3 a gallon gasoline. Ever. She does see early adopters fleeing to fuel-efficient vehicles. She sees trucks and SUVs in death throes. Not temporarily, either. She sees a downsizing that is not a brief blip on society's radar, but a reality we all must learn to live with for some years to come. "That is your answer."

"Wow. That was great. I'm gonna buy a Corolla. So who's going to be our next President?"

"You are out of questions. Good day. Next! Well, hello Mr. McCain. You have three questions...."

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