DETROIT. The news out of Motor City is good these days, with car sales trending upwards for the past seven years. “It’s really been a boom time,” says automotive analyst Morton Hatch, “except for the runt of the litter.”
Hatch is referring to what some lump together as “green” vehicles, typically hybrids that use a combination of energy sources, such as a gas-fueled internal combustion engine and a battery-powered electric motor. “They’re the sick puppies of the industry,” he says, and sales figures beat out his dismal appraisal; hybrids now represent a mere 2.75% of new car sales, down from 3.19% in 2013.
But a joint government-industry initiative aims to reverse that trend with a throwback approach; the use of rock and roll to fuel consumer demand for the dweeby vehicles, just as “hot rod rock” by entertainers such as Jan and Dean, Ronny and the Daytonas and The Beach Boys drove buyers into dealer showrooms in the 60’s.
“Somehow or other we’ve got to make hybrids sexy,” says Evelyn Roslin of the Massachusetts Department of Consumer Affairs, who drives a Toyota Prius. “Otherwise, if current trends continue, everybody in America will be driving a pickup truck in five years.”
The first step in what promises to be an uphill climb will be taken today, when the public-private partnership sponsors a three-act mini-rock festival here, with forty-five minute sets by Dan & Jean, Hedda and the Hybrids, and The Electro-Cars. Dan & Jean, who claim that the resemblance between their names and Jan & Dean is merely coincidental, take the stage first and launch into an up-tempo number titled “Hey, Little Prius”:
Hey pretty baby, now don’t put me down–they sing;
I’ve got a set of wheels that’s the slowest in town.
I like to get my kicks giving other guys pain
When I cruise the speed limit in the passing lane.
After applause that can charitably be described as tepid, The Electro-Cars take the stage in crisp uniforms that evoke gas station attendants of a bygone era. Their demeanor recalls an earlier, gentler time as well, as they exhibit none of the snarling nihilism so endemic to “pop” musical groups of today–until they launch into a typical song of automotive braggadocio, “Your Little MPG”:
Your little MPG–it ain’t as big as mine.
While you’re stoppin’ for gas–
It’s by you I’m flyin’.
You’ll see me as I pass
I’m gettin’ fifty-nine.
No set of car-themed rock would be complete without a girl group singing a mournful dirge about a fatal accident, a stock number of record labels who sought to exploit young women’s fears that they wouldn’t return from a night of “drag racing.” Hedda and the Hybrids close out the set with a somber number that brings home to the crowd the risks of small, fuel-efficient cars:
We was driving out on South 65–
I was just hopin’ we’d return alive.
But when we hit that curve
Our hybrid began to swerve
The air bags soon deployed
and my nose was destroyed.