Our car experts choose every product we feature. We may earn money from the links on this page.
The only answer is to want less. But human nature is hard to overcome.
When news broke that the upcoming GMC Hummer EV would get 47 mpge, it was hard to feign surprise. A 9000-lb Hummer-branded monster truck that hits sixty with the urgency of a spooked spaceship was never chasing outright efficiency. The exercise was designed to convince a skeptical public that, in this time when prudence and restraint is needed, owners of this gigantic EV will not be expected to sacrifice, grow, or learn. Mission accomplished.
Welcome to Uncomfortable Questions, a monthly Road & Track column focused on the issues that automakers would rather not address.
Progress is still evident, however. The energy-guzzling monster truck of today is four times as efficient as the last Hummer that went extinct. Today, though, excess is back, so long as it’s wrapped politely in an EV cellophane. Because EVs are naturally more efficient, we’ve taken the opportunity to free ourselves from restraint in favor of ever dumber, costlier versions of the same old mistakes.
Yet there is no real villain here, no final boss in a three-piece suit to vanquish. Because Hummer, GM, the auto industry—whoever—are the symptom not the problem. Surely the brilliant and capable engineers working on this impressive project are excited to wield technology and raise truck performance to new heights. They are passionate people who want, just like us. The real issue is that, on a fundamental level, we want these engineers to make the electric Hummer in the first place.
Because human desire is a moving target, a chalice that can never be full. We wanted cars that were faster until the improvements became neither perceptible nor pleasant, so then we wanted our trucks to go like hell too. We wanted to tow our pleasure craft down to the boat launch with those same trucks and get a massage along the way. We didn’t know what we wanted after that, but we wanted more of it.
Nothing makes this more salient than stepping back in time. When I first read of the Hummer EV’s dismal efficiency, I was sat with a friend at a diner. We’d driven there in a 1991 Acura NSX, which we had camped in the night before. That car, with less power than a modern V-6 Camry and no power steering, was not just comfortable and acceptable for a one-night camping road trip, but utterly sensational. The NSX was talkative and friendly and reasonable, able to be enjoyed on public roads by mortal drivers. The car lacked any mic-drop stat or excess, yet ask any enthusiast in the know, and the NSX would rank near the top of any “Greatest Cars Ever” list. Modern cars are faster and smarter, but that’s it. They aren’t better, they’re just more.
We’re all part of it. This site, the writers on it, we’re all stoking want in the audience, even if we’re trying to aim it toward the good stuff and not the fluff. Since I planted the thought, I’m sure everyone reading this has typed “NSX” into an adjacent Craigslist tab.
This brings us back to the Hummer EV, and the uncomfortable truth of our time. Companies have lost sight of the goal. Instead of trying to reduce the impact that our vehicles have on the planet, they are substituting in the more marketable, profitable goal of converting their current vehicles into heavier electric versions. A dazzling supertruck, a sub-2-second-to-60 sprinter, a quad-motor torque-vectoring hypercar: These things signal to us that our unrestrained want will survive another era, that change without pain is possible.
The moment, however, is bigger than that. We’re not here because humanity is being called upon to switch to EVs. We’re here because, whoever you blame, it is clear that we need to reduce emissions to ensure that the things we love carry on. It’s not about getting to EVs, it’s about consuming less energy. That means rooting out our unreasonable desires for four-digit power and neck-snapping accelerations.
Those predisposed to hate this line of thinking will assume I’m arguing for the eradication of enthusiasm. Quite the contrary. The conflation of excess and experience is a marketing idea, one contrived to sell you more power you don’t need. This moment, in its moral demand for restraint, gives us an opportunity to refocus our enthusiasm on what matters. The NSX, the 289 Cobra, the Veloster N, the Miata, these are the case studies that prove true enjoyment is found in a simple machine that you can regularly take to its absolute limit. A 1000-hp Tesla or a 9000-lb Hummer isn’t that, it’s a gimmick that ages like milk. There will always be a faster one tomorrow.
The good stuff, the real stuff, requires you to abandon the idea that more is necessary. Because while the world we’ve constructed wants to sell you something. Forever. But a drive in a Miata, a campfire with friends, a meal cooked at home, or a walk in the woods will remind you of the real truth, that happiness is about what happens when you peel away excess. Until we learn that, we’re doomed to decadence.