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Editor's Note: Welcome to Car Country

July 28, 2010
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It’s road trip season. Though the basic idea has not changed-drive somewhere, bring snacks and music, enjoy the journey-the car of choice may be up for discussion. It remains to be seen what Americans will be driving in 20 years.

I distinctly remember my family’s road trips: some to nearby Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin, visits to Colorado to see relatives, or more elaborate trips such as flying to San Francisco and then driving through northern California.

That last trip was memorable, not only for the redwoods and scenery, but for all the time spent in a rented minivan with my parents and three sisters.

Understand that my dad’s taste in music can be best described as unique and covers the range of musicals to country to the bizarre; I have yet to meet anyone who shares his enthusiasm for Dr. Demento’s radio show, or who has even heard of it. On the California trip he brought a tape featuring songs such as Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger.”

I don’t think teenage girls are the best audience to appreciate this selection, and needless to say, these songs would not have been our first choice.

After long hours driving to campsites throughout California, the backseat staged a mutiny, complaining that this music was not acceptable to five of the six people in the vehicle. However, my dad wouldn’t budge. Still, some time later, in a classic example of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” we were singing along with Willie Nelson about that red headed stranger: “Don’t cross him, don’t boss him…”

That minivan was a key presence on the trip, and we still talk about that sing-along.

In ways both large and small, cars have shaped our culture and our country, so any new developments, such as electric vehicles, are watched with interest.

Americans use cars for work and play, and the automotive industry affects many of us. No longer is building a high-quality vehicle the only priority-energy is also a concern.

San Francisco, the starting place for my family’s adventure, is also a starting place for technology.

“If electric cars have any future in the United States, this may be the city where they arrive first,” according to the New York Times article, “Cities Prepare for Life With the Electric Car.” That same article also states that in nearby Berkeley, one out of five cars sold today is a hybrid Prius.

Manufacturers are taking clean energy seriously. GM’s Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster are generating interest, along with the electric version of the Ford Focus, and GM recently announced an eight-year guarantee for the new electric car’s battery.

With these projects also come opportunities. Manufacturing jobs created by battery packs are one example, with more options to follow. No matter what the cars run on, there will always be a place for ensuring quality of these vehicles and testing them to be sure families can drive them safely, with nothing more dangerous than country music overload.

On a related note, how do you feel about visiting Texas? The state that gave us Willie Nelson will be home to a few upcoming events this fall. Houston will host MS&T October 17-21, as well as ASNT’s fall conference, November 15-19.

If you’ll be driving, allow me to suggest some country music for the trip. Trust me, it’ll grow on you.

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