One of the most noticeable aspects of the UK for a visitor from the US aside from the distinct, palpable sense of history—from ancient buildings to old place names—is the size of the cars. They are small, especially for someone from Alaska who has been living in Alabama for some time. While it is not unusual to see smaller cars in my current home in Alabama, even a few hybrid cars, this was rare in my former Alabama town, where giant SUVs and trucks (all seemingly monster) roared along the roads and took up so much space that finding parking was a constant issue for my neighbors, even those with modestly-sized vehicles.
In contrast, the cars in the UK are petite creations, pocket autos for a small place with limited space. Many of the cars are hybrid or electric, designed to save gas given the high price of gas in the UK (at least 10 dollars a gallon). Some are so small I almost feel that I could do some kind of feat of strength and lift one…well, at least part of one. And they are very charming with their rounded sides fronts and backs (boots) and sleek flanks. I have learned not to discount their usability despite their Lilliputian size. Years ago I used to ride in my great-aunt’s Mini, one of the old-style ones: bare bones with no frills, but a really efficient and surprisingly zippy car. My great-aunt, who drove ambulances during World War II, could maneuver that Mini through narrow lanes and over steep moors with ease, and while there wasn’t acres of elbowroom I don’t remember being cramped (of course, I was mini then too).
I feel that we Americans have, in a sense, been jipped: here are cars that would save us so much in gas money, make parking a breeze, and look great in the bargain, and yet many of these are not available here even though a number of the small charmers that I encountered are made by US carmakers such as Ford and Chevrolet. And while folks in the UK can access hybrids and electrics such as Honda’s hybrid Fit (named the Jazz in much of Europe), we Americans remain tied to gas, although the growing number of hybrids in other models do seem to indicate a change.
And there’s more than simply parking and gas mileage at stake, there’s also safety: I felt much safer walking and cycling in the UK with such smaller vehicles, in contrast to the thrill of fear that I feel when confronted with the SUV/truck leviathans in Alabama. While smaller vehicles might make transporting a number of people difficult, I was always amazed by how many people could fit into my great-aunt’s Mini. Choosing smaller vehicles could mean more room for bike lanes, while lighter vehicles could lead to less wear and tear on roads (saving tax money). Greater fuel efficiency and the introduction of hybrids and electric cars could also means smaller bills for drivers and less health dangers from pollution. And, throwing logos and ethos aside for the moment in favor of pure pathos: they are darn cute.
To be continued…