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‘MotorWeek’ Keeps Rolling Along

The future is electric, and it still includes John Davis
by Steve Tarter |
2022-10_hdr_0012_13_motor-week

There’s no truth to the rumor that “MotorWeek” founder and host John Davis received the first car for the weekly PBS series from Henry Ford, himself.

But Davis has been on the air a long time. Now approaching its 42nd season, “MotorWeek” shows no sign of running out of gas.

Neither does Davis, who’s been there at every turn since 1981 when the show first aired on Maryland public television. Davis came to Peoria in early June to greet participants in the 2022 Roundo, the annual car rally that benefits WTVP  PBS.

The MotorWeek Group, 1981

In the program’s most recent season, Davis, 78, explored many of the electric models now on the market. “Electric cars aren’t new,” he said. “Downtown Detroit had charging stations 100 years ago.” Of course, that was before engines powered by gasoline took control of the road.

Now, the high price of gas this summer is providing a real incentive to go electric, though Davis predicts a wholesale changeover is unlikely to arrive until improvements are made in charging times — and charge-station availability.

The recently announced $6,000 price drop in the Chevy Bolt will make a better case for electric, he said. Chevrolet’s previous electric model, the Volt, was “the quintessential vehicle that was ahead of its time,” said Davis. The plug-in hybrid was discontinued in 2019.

The Volt is but one of the vehicles Davis has seen come and go over the years. “We test what’s new,” he said of the philosophy behind “MotorWeek,” adding that there’s an even more dramatic development down the road: the self-driving car.

“The first autonomous car I ever saw was on ‘The Jetsons,’” he said, referring to the 1960s TV show that depicted flying cars in an animated future. “But when it comes to operating on the same roads as human-powered cars where they would co-mingle, I don’t think we’ll see that for a very long time,” said Davis.

Nevertheless, the “MotorWeek” host applauds what the autonomous movement has accomplished, including “everyday passenger cars” that “are much safer,” thanks to devices such as crash sensors and lane-assist options. “I thank the visionaries for what’s been developed,” he said. “So much effort is going that way.”

Meanwhile, history keeps repeating itself, said Davis, as is the case with the escalation of oil prices.

“We’ve been through this before. When there’s been a gas spike in the past, full-size gas hogs have taken a huge loss,” he said. “But I don’t know if we’re going to see that again, given the SUV-truck culture of the past 20 years.”

So what vehicle does the guy who’s been testing new models for the past 40 years drive?

“My wife Cheryl and I do long road trips with our three dogs so we bought a Hyundai Palisade,” he said, referring to the large-size SUV. Davis also has a 12-year-old Subaru Outback and a Mini Cooper.

“Twice I’ve almost bought an electric,” said Davis, citing an older Mini Cooper electric model and the new Mustang ME.

“The Mini Cooper’s 100-mile range just wasn’t enough in 2001,” he said. “As for the Mustang, I was prepared not to like it but I loved it. I just didn’t pull the trigger.”

Davis does squeeze the trigger, however, on rearview cameras along with other gadgets. “I like a back-up sensor and a decent stereo. I like gauges. I like to know what’s going on in the car,” he said.

While few know more about what’s going on in the auto industry, “people ask me when I’m going to retire,” said Davis. “My answer is when it’s no longer fun.”

For now, Davis is still having fun being part of a well-oiled TV machine that produces 26 new shows a year. He very much misses one member of that team – Pat Goss, the show’s  “technical consultant.”

‘I THANK THE VISIONARIES FOR WHAT’S BEEN DEVELOPED’

— John Davis

“He didn’t like being called a mechanic,” said Davis. “He was a remarkable talent and he was my friend. I was destroyed when his wife called me to tell me he had suddenly passed away. I still haven’t put my head around it.

“He had 10 times the depth of automotive knowledge that I had. There was no one like Pat.”

Everything changes, of course, including “car culture,” said Davis.

 “We’ve gone from the hot rod craze to the present, where a certain percentage of the population looks at the car as just another appliance.” Meanwhile, there also has been a revival among people who want to personalize their vehicles, he said.

Whatever the case, count on Davis to keep his eyes on the road, with a new season.

Steve Tarter

Steve Tarter

is a Peoria Magazine contributor who was born in England, raised in Boston, moved to Peoria to attend Bradley University and decided to stay. He has spent a career in journalism and public relations.
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