Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, is an oft-quoted expert on what makes Americans tick. From his pop-culture perspective, Thompson can see a world where Hummer-loving Americans abandon their monstrous vehicles to go green, prompting a race to see who can get the smallest, most efficient, greenest car around--a trend that may be starting now.
Thompson believes that American culture revolves around the same themes that characterize our automobiles: independence, freedom, and glitz. For an American, a car has "gotta be flashy, and it's gotta be conspicuous. Probably at least a little bit garish." But over-the-top, gas-guzzling road hogs didn't have to become the primary way to stand out. In a world where the fuel standards set by President Jimmy Carter were maintained, showing off the smallest, most efficient car could have become a national obsession.
It's the same logic that inspired our forebears to add fins and flames to perfectly good automobiles.