Dr. Paul MacCready

A Giant Passes: Dr. Paul MacCready (1925-2007)

Tribute to a 'Hero of the Planet'

By EV World

Dr. Paul MacCready passed away in his sleep yesterday, 28 August 2007 from a recently diagnosed illness. He was a long-time supporter of EV World, as well as a pioneer in the development of energy efficient mobility technologies from the human-powered Gossamer Condor to the EV1 electric car. We here at EV World offer our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. All of us will greatly miss him.

I clearly remember both the first and last times I met Paul MacCready, whom I had long admired since the exploits of the Gossamer Condor, the first human powered flight.

The first time was at an electric vehicle conference in Phoenix, Arizona. He graciously paused to talk and pose for a photography with one of his microlight aircraft models, which he'd been flying around the exhibition hall. Clearly, flight was his passion, and the financial pillar upon which the company he built, AeroVironment (AVinc) continues to prosper.

The last time was just outside his Monrovia, California offices as he was getting ready to drive home from work in his Toyota RAV4 electric car, which he was also indirectly responsible for helping create when his company developed the prototype of the electric car that would one day become the General Motors EV1. I took some more pictures of him and promised that we'd do a follow-up interview with him. Sadly, I didn't keep my promise and now that interview will never happen.

I would love to have asked him his views today on the future of electric cars now that we appear to have the battery chemistry to make them happen, which we didn't have back when he and his team, led by Alec Brooks and Wally Rippel first tackled the problem of a modern electric vehicle. Those two gentlemen have since moved over to Tesla to continue their passionate pursuit of EVs.

When I interviewed him back nearly 10 years ago now, he made an interesting comment about not thinking the electric car alone was the answer to the challenges facing personal mobility in the 21st century. When I asked him what he would design differently on the EV1, he remarked that he wasn't sure he'd even build the car today. Here's what he said to me back then.

"The one great thing this whole electric car mandate in California has done," MacCready observed, "it's got people to start... thinking more broadly about what is mobility and what do we need. Gee, adding a zero emission car that maybe doesn't take any energy to the car fleet of California, doesn't do anything for pollution. Getting rid of an old car that's polluting a lot, that helps. But one more nice car just adds to traffic and parking problems. We have to look at the whole system of mobility rather than just a vehicle."

"When I give talks, I say that if everybody had a Massaratti that runs on Cold Fusion, would that be good? No, you'd have one big traffic jam. You'd look like Bangkok. So you have to look at mobility in broader terms including telecommuting where you don't go, you don't use any energy; land use planning, where the suburbs are, car pooling, mass transit, life style. You find yourself asking... you're talking about really big issues. Why are we here? What's the meaning of life? There are no simple answers. You can make a better car, but as long as we give gasoline away in the United States, we don't care about efficiency, who really wants an electric car?"

MacCready believes that as long as the cost of gasoline represents only 15% of the life cycle costs of a vehicle there won't be much of a market for more energy efficient vehicles. Instead, he thinks we need to take a more fundamental view of mobility, how to economically provide it to everyone so that, for example in Los Angeles, we don't allocate 70% of the land for transportation infrastructure.

"These are big issues," he stated," and just drawing on the thinking of the past, attitudes of the past, and thinking, 'Gee, how do we make a better car?' I think is very short-sighted. You draw back and say how do we provide people safe mobility of a type they really need and want."

It's thinking like this that garnered him a "Hero of the Planet" award from Time magazine the following year.

Paul... sorry I didn't do that interview.

More Information on Dr. MacCready's many, many accomplishments.

Times Article Viewed: 11991
Published: 29-Aug-2007


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