His drive to suburbia's a (natural) gas

Dick Messer, executive director of the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: You can say Dick Messer has a split personality about the car. He's the executive director of the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Everyday to the masses, he shows off a lot of gas guzzlers. But he drives something a little more environmentally-friendly.

This morning, as part of Marketplace's series, the "Next American Dream," we examine that quintessential American accessory -- the car.
It helped build suburbia. It gives us freedom.
And it also has an environmental downside.
That's something Dick Messer wants to fix. Thanks for joining us today sir. What is it that you drive?

Dick Messer: This is the GX-model Honda. That's my commuter car. That's a car that I drive on a daily basis and it's natural gas powered. It is basically pollution free. There's a little bit of pollution, but nothing anywhere near what it would be if the car was gasoline powered.

CHIOTAKIS: How difficult is it to find natural gas?

Messer: It's not difficult at all. That's a huge myth. Natural gas is anywhere from around the L.A. area anywhere from $1.35. I filled up last night, it was $1.79.

CHIOTAKIS: So why is natural gas better than electric?

Messer: I have a home in Riverside, Calif., which is 75 miles east of here. And you can't get there, you can't get from Los Angeles to Riverside -- to my house in Riverside -- on one charge with an electric car right now. You can't do it.

CHIOTAKIS: What do you say to people who tell you that electric cars are cleaner?

Messer: My answer is they're not.

CHIOTAKIS: Why?

Messer: Well you've got to take it right back from the beginning -- battery production. You've got lead in your batteries. You've got all kinds of toxic chemicals inside the battery and then you've got the disposal of the batteries. We're getting to the point now where some of these Priuses have been out since 2002, 2003 and their batteries are starting to go bad. What are you going to do when you get rid of the old battery pack? How's that disposed of? Well it goes to a toxic waste dump.

The other issue is the production of electricity. You know, you are running the car on electricity. It's not free energy.

CHIOTAKIS: What brought you to this? What brought you to drive in a car, you know, that's fueled by natural gas?

Messer: This is my offset. We're a museum. We have a lot of gas-guzzling cars. I own a lot of gas-guzzling cars. I own some muscle cars. I own a '63 Lincoln Continental I've had since new. I've had a '53 Cadillac. These cars are getting 11-12 miles a gallon. But I only drive them maybe once a month. This is my contribution to Mother Earth.

You know, and to set an example for the people that come to the Peterson. I'm saying I'm the director of the museum and I drive a natural gas-powered Honda, and I love it. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's a comfortable car. It's got plenty of zip. It's clean energy. The thing that's a mystery to me is why more people haven't caught onto this.

CHIOTAKIS: Well Dick Messer, executive director of the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, thanks for being with us.

Messer: Well thanks for having me on, I appreciate it.

CHIOTAKIS: Good luck with your car.

Messer: Thank you.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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