As somebody who reached adulthood in Europe, I can assure readers that the "hot market in Europe for stylish and increasingly performance driven compact cars" has been around for decades ("Dream machines," Cover Story, Jan. 16). It is, in fact, the reason that in a half-century of driving I have never owned an American-designed or -manufactured vehicle. If you really wanted to write about design, rather than style, you would have pointed out that what's new in Europe is that half of those peppy, stylish vehicles are diesel-powered, and hence much more fuel-efficient and less polluting.
I am pessimistic about the future of computer systems that directly control the motion of an automobile. These are complex systems that inevitably will produce unintended consequences, in addition to suffering from programming bugs. A percentage of these will result in situations that create liability for the manufacturer, among others. This liability is likely to exceed that created by simpler, current systems, such as cruise control or automatic braking systems (ABS).
Daniel B. Kapustin
With China's and India's automotive economies heating up, the writing is on the wall: $100-a-barrel oil and up. This article glosses over what really needs to be done: achieve far higher vehicle efficiencies. If we don't do it, as we have seen, foreign manufacturers will do it for us, and control the intellectual property (IP) as well. When they control enough of the best-working patented automotive IP, our auto industry will go bankrupt because consumers will not buy second-best vehicles in efficiency.
Unfortunately, features I want are rare to nonexistent. I would like a full bench front seat, which used to be common even in the smallest of vehicles. I prefer vinyl seats and floor, because both are much, much easier to keep dry and clean (do your own experiment). I would prefer a decent trunk lid, to carry bulky items from the store or yard sales -- for whatever reason, designers provide a huge rear dash instead. It would be nice to see the front end and the rear end of the car while in the driver's seat. Since the newer designs do not allow this, I would also appreciate right and left mirrors that fold (parking spaces don't seem to take into account the size of today's mirrors).
In "Sexy or sensible?" on automotive choice, David Kiley gets the "Teenage Terror" category wrong. While both the Honda Civic (HMC) and the Mazda 3S have good safety numbers, they're good numbers for cars of their size. Better to put Junior and his sister in a used Volvo than either of these admittedly delicious go-carts.
At the other end of the spectrum, Titans of Industry who decide to treat themselves well don't strap themselves into a Porsche 911, or anything like it. Top-of-the-line Audis and BMWs abound. I know one "TOI" who bought a Miata, but he drove it through a snowstorm and realized he was feeling suicidal, so he dumped it and got the largest Mercedes-Benz (DCX) available to take its place.
Your five "sexy or sensible?" buyer categories left out a major niche: retiring baby boomers. As a possible leading indicator of this group (retired since 1988), I recently shopped around for a new set of wheels. The long wait for my first choice, a Prius, detoured me toward the Honda Element and Scion xB. I settled on the xB, largely because of the ease of entry and exit, plus good gas mileage. The Honda and Scion salesmen -- both quite young -- told me with some awe that sales of these cars, designed for Gen X, were split between customers under 30 and over 60. We geezers came as a big surprise!
Theodore B. Merrill
Shelburne Falls, Mass.
"Sexy or sensible?" says today's dreams are not of your father's Oldsmobile. Well, guess what? It's not all about new cars. My "teenage terror" just wants a car, and it happens to be a very dreamy used Impala! As the song goes, "any dream will do."
Western Springs, Ill.
In "Crossing the gene barrier" (Special Report, Jan. 16), the sidebar, "What's ethical and what isn't" mentions that the National Council of Churches USA would like a "governing body to review transgenic and brain-cell experiments" that "should include religious leaders and scientists." The possibility of a future filled with monstrous transgenic chimeras is pretty scary. Far more chilling is the possibility of "religious leaders" overseeing the work of scientists. Although peer review and ethics training are not perfect, they are far superior to ceding scientific advancement to archaic, arbitrary beliefs.
Catherine Arnst is right that parents must open their eyes to childhood obesity ("Helping your kid slim down," Personal Business, Jan. 9). However, child development and crisis experts are realizing that we must also attack the underlying emotional roots of overeating caused by unprecedented modern stresses on children. It's not only what our kids are eating -- sometimes it's what's eating our kids. Now, more holistic efforts are starting to provide parents and kids with healthy eating information and problem-solving resources that will help defuse the obesity bomb before our kids "blow up." Parents can find healthy-eating and family-communication tips at KidsPeace.org. Kids can find tips and resources to eat healthy, work out stresses, and avoid eating disorders at TeenCentral.net.
C.T. O'Donnell II
President & CEO
Given the complexities of the Alaskan natural gas fiasco, perhaps a bold new approach is required that can create a win-win situation for all ("Memo to: Rex Tillerson," News: Analysis & Commentary, Jan. 9). Some have determined that Alaskan natural gas could be converted into a superclean diesel fuel on the order of 1 million barrels a day (compared with an estimated 1.4 million barrels a day output from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).
Given Exxon Mobil Corp.'s (XOM) technological skill in the conversion of natural gas to liquids plus its experience with its natural gas-to-liquids Qatar project, going to Alaska should be a snap. The existing oil pipeline might be adequate for transporting this liquid to Valdez. The addition of 1 million barrels a day of transportation fuel would reduce imports by the same amount and improve the trade deficit.