abound. There’s the Who Killed the Electric Car? theory, which
blames automakers in collusion with Big Oil. There’s the Beta-max theory, by which an inferior technology won out because
of random factors — such as falling oil prices and mass production—that let it undersell the competition. There’s the sneaky
dealer theory (dealers pushed gas cars because they make all
their money on maintenance, which electric cars don’t need), the
“sissy car” theory (the marketing of electric cars to women cast
them as inferior to macho gas guzzlers), and the government
blowback theory (federal road improvements made it desirable
to drive farther than the standard electric car range). And there’s
the automakers’ theory: internal combustion is simply the most
The Triplets are famous for
having turned up as rookies in
2008 with a 50cc motorcycle
they carried over from France
in their suitcases.
e;cient, most awesome technology humans have ever invented
for getting themselves from one place to another. Vroom vroom!
SUNDAY PASSES without any texts from Shiva. Hanging around
the Budweiser-fueled crowd at the starting line, I learn that many
of the motor fans have heard of the Triplets. They are famous for
having turned up as rookies in 2008 with a 50cc motorcycle they
carried over from France in their suitcases. They assembled the
cycle in their hotel room and raced it with and without its sidecar,
in both the gasoline and “other fuel” categories. That way, each
of them was able to set a world land-speed record in a di=erent
class. It sounds downright socialist to me, but the gearheads love
the suitcase bit.
After a while, I go back to the Triplets’ encampment. They are
working on installing their HANS device, a new type of safety
harness. It’s not regulation until next year, but o;cials have
decided that the Triplets, with their untested car, need it now.
Watching the Triplets attack the cockpit with a variety of tools,
it occurs to me that the Saline Burner looks a bit like a baguette.
Air-powered cars are not as novel as you might think. By 1931,
American automakers had already introduced seven di=erent
compressed-air cars. But Google “compressed-air car” today and
the companies you see are French, Spanish, South Korean, and
Australian. Shiva’s employer, MDI, is the most frequently mentioned, especially after 2007, when Tata Motors, India’s largest
automaker, licensed their technology for all of India. It remains
to be seen whether Tata will actually produce a compressed-air
car. But in the U.S. the concept generates a lot of vaguely hostile
skepticism. Wikipedia—always a good barometer of the hive-mind’s prejudices — gleefully reports that the CEO of the South
Korean company Energine is “the first compressed-air car promoter to be arrested for fraud” — as if many more indictments
are brewing. Even the New York Times, typically bullish on green
innovation, has blown hot and then cold on the concept. Skeptics complain that air must be compressed somehow — usually
by electricity — and that compressed air doesn’t store energy as
e;ciently as batteries. They point out that the lightweight cars
could never meet American safety standards.