Dec 11th 2021
Madison and Paris
THE ALLIANT ENERGY CENTRE, a stadium complex in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, hosts all sorts of events, from exhibitions to concerts. In November it played host to “Mega Monster Trucks Live”, a three-day affair apparently dedicated to choking its attendees, mostly families with small children, with exhaust fumes. The stadium was filled with mud and two large ramps, over which five enormous cars did jumps. “I know we have some big-time monster-truck fans!” called the breathless announcer. At one point an ageing BMW was lifted into the arena for the trucks to crush. A motorcyclist roared in with a bikini-clad model riding pillion, carrying an American flag. Children in ear mufflers screamed in delight as the vehicles, with names like “Kamikaze” and “Jailbird”, each a good five metres (16 feet) tall, pulled doughnuts and kicked up mud.
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At shows like this, America’s car culture looks as strong as ever. What is more American than owning a giant pickup truck? The vast car park outside the Alliant centre was filled with vehicles such as the Ford F-150, a pickup almost the same size as the M4 Sherman tank used in the second world war. President Joe Biden proudly calls himself a “car guy”, and on November 17th was photographed driving an electric Hummer, the civilian version of the Humvee, outside a factory in Michigan. The “Build Back Better” bill being debated in Congress includes hefty tax credits for the purchase of electric cars. Pete Buttigieg, Mr Biden’s transportation secretary, sings the praises of electric pickup trucks, including a version of the F-150, as a hardy alternative to petrol for rural Americans.
Two legs better
And yet American politicians are not all as obsessed with cars as they were. Madison, the liberal college city hosting the monster-trucks rally, boasts about how many of its people walk, take public transport or cycle to work. A series of city leaders elected across America have promised to nudge people out of their cars. For many owning a car is no longer the great aspiration it was. In that, America is gently following a pattern established in Europe for decades, and now accelerating. On both continents city leaders want to reduce car ownership, so as to cut congestion and pollution.
National leaders however tend to want to add to it, to help the car industry. The result is clashing policies, where people are encouraged to buy ever more cars, but find that they are increasingly unable to use them as they would like. …….