The problem with Cadillac's electric cars

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The problem with Cadillac’s electric cars


That Harvard Guy (Under a CC Licence)

Like many environmentalists, I want electric cars to be more popular. But not like this.

One of the best advertisements on US television recently is an advert for the Cadillac ELR. It costs $75,000 and is not a luxury car that uses a lot of petrol; it’s an electric hybrid. It can travel 55 kilometres on battery alone and then it needs to use the petrol engine.

But the advert does not say how green the car is. It says how hard people work in the US, how the rich are right to be proud, and laughs at other countries.

‘Why do we work so hard? For this? To buy things?’ asks a blue-eyed executive as he walks around his property (with a swimming pool). ‘In other countries, they work, they walk home, they go to the café, they have 4 weeks’ holiday in August,’ he says, amazed. ‘Holiday!’

But this is not the American way, ‘because we’re crazy and hardworking,’ he explains. ‘You work hard, you create your own luck, and you have to believe anything is possible.’

As he unplugs his new car, he says: ‘And we have all these things because we only have two weeks’ holiday in August. Yeah?’

The advert was on television a lot at the time of the Winter Olympics. Not everyone liked it. Many people did not like the way it praised the richest one per cent. So General Motors representative had to explain. “You have to earn more than $375,000 per year to be in the top one per cent”, they said. They wanted the advert to be for people who work hard and only earn about $200,000 per year.

Lots of people from the American Right loved the advert. But lots of other people hated it. There was a blog post called: ‘Cadillac Made A Commercial About The American Dream, And It’s A Nightmare’.

Someone wrote on YouTube ‘I’d prefer more holiday to a Cadillac’.

Americans, on average, work more hours than people in Western Europe (but less hours than workers in South Korea or the Czech Republic). Most people don’t choose to work more, they have to. The new popular US jobs, like home-help, pay very little. People with middle-class jobs often have to do the work of others who lost their jobs in the crisis. And most of the profits from the past 10 years have gone to the top one per cent.

The Cadillac advert has problems, but it also has some good points. They don’t talk about the green advantages of the car. Because they try to make businesspeople like it, they are showing green technology (which could save the planet) together with business and love of buying new things (which are killing the planet).

We see that it is good to make cars use less energy. But this is not enough. If we really want to do something about climate change and environmental destruction, we need to change how we think of human progress. Not just measure it by GDP.

This means we must do more than creating more jobs and paying higher wages as the economy improves. We need to fight for better working hours for all people. Because, as economist Juliet Schor writes, ‘Familes that don’t have enough time use more carbon.’

The electric-car industry might not earn so much money, but, if we want a more sustainable world, we should offer this: Work less. Have more holidays. Buy no Cadillacs.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus. He is writing a book about the evolution of political nonviolence.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).