“So Much For The Cars Under $20,000,” lamented Jalopnik on November 1. The everyman motoring enthusiast site noted that in the mid-2000s, small cars were popular as high gas prices ravaged consumer pockets. “I remember a colleague back then buying a Hummer and other colleagues saying how against the prevailing winds that purchase was. Shortly thereafter, Hummer died. Of course, nowadays, Hummer is back and people can’t get enough of big cars, even with gas prices approaching all-time highs.”
Consumer Reports, uh, reports that the average price of a new car is a little over $45,000. That is, just so we’re on the same page, more money than the median American earns in a year. This is not how it always was. Skyrocketing costs for cars have introduced newer, more dangerous loans, including the motherloan: 84 months, more than half the expected lifespan of the car itself.
Alongside this boost in car prices and the boost in gas prices is a boost in awareness that imminent action is required to stem the worst effects of climate change. Car emissions pollute. That pollution causes climate change. A lot of Americans have decided that paying luxury prices to buy a vehicle that requires them to actively contribute to climate change to own is maybe not the thing they want in their lives. They’ve turned to e-bikes.
Electric bikes have some advantages over traditional bikes. They don’t require as much pedal action, since the electric assist can generally power the bike over flat areas with little or no effort from the rider. Europeans have been getting into the electric bike, too. Bikes are super convenient to store (some are even foldable) and dedicated cycling lanes in major cities are making it easier to use a bike as a way around town.
There is this other thing, though. This thing:
That’s a PEBL 100, an electric bike from Better Bike. Its battery can run for 100 miles, it has a built-in phone charger and you can add an optional heater. It’s not quite a car, but it can hold an adult and two kids, or a good selection of groceries, or maybe a dog.
Velomobiles have been around for a while, but it was in the 1970s when the idea of the People Powered Vehicle became fashionable. Gas prices then reached insane highs of over $2 in 2021 dollars, so you can see why people – wait, what?
You have to think about it from the perspective of 1970s Americans, who were used to paying well under $1 for a gallon of gas. When it hit $1.75 (in 2021 dollars) in 1970, Americans were shocked. Many believed that the era of cheap gasoline was over – and it was. But it turns out that Americans were willing to pay $1.75 per gallon. In the mid-2000s, it was clear that Americans would even pay over $3 per gallon, and in 2021 we’re seeing that Americans will pay over $5 per gallon.
The People Powered Vehicle relied on pedaling, with no electric assist. It wasn’t really protected from the weather and it’s not a surprise that it never captured attention in the same way that e-bikes have. But surely if there is a time for the velomobile, that time is now?
In a 2018 article, Electrek says that, without economies of scale, velomobiles won’t be affordable to the masses. The PEBL 100 costs over $13,000 with add-ons, which is way more than a bicycle, even an e-bike. But it’s also still less than a Mitsubishi Mirage, and only slightly smaller, with the added benefit of never buying gasoline again.
More importantly, velomobiles and electric bikes are opening our eyes to a world where electric vehicles are increasingly common. If a two car household can ditch one car and replace it with a velomobile, that’s a big budget change for the house. If every two car household can do it, it’s a big climate shift.
Also, I mean. Look at them.