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Conversation With a Green Car Guy

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

With the dawn of green cars well upon us, automotive journalists have struggled to change their interest from combustion engines to hybrid, plug-ins, hydrogen and clean diesel. Then there's Nick Chambers. AutoTrader's green car specialist came to the job in a much more unique way. Nick answers some of our questions about how he went from geologist to green car journalist and how his outlook on cars and career changed along the way.

Green cars are relatively new. Have you always had a passion for cars?

Believe it or not I've always been a car guy. Throughout my childhood and into college I had subscriptions to Motor Trend, Car and Driver, AutoWeek and Popular Mechanics. When my parents took me to the bookstore or library as a child I walked straight past the fairy tales and holed myself up next to the books on how engines work. I spent hours flipping through coffee table books about classic sports cars.

So growing up you were into petroleum and rubber-burning combustion cars?

Like many other red-blooded American boys, I drooled and lusted over the sexy McLarens and the nearly-within-reach Porsches, but the cars and concepts that most often fascinated me were the futuristic things like hydrogen fuel and sleek aerodynamic shapes.

When did your interest in green cars start to take center stage?

My relationship with cars began to change in college. Although I didn't enter the world of higher education thinking I'd be a scientist, by the middle of my first year the earth sciences had grabbed a hold of me and I eventually graduated with a BS in Geology. I also went on to graduate school for Soil Science. In the process of getting two degrees studying rocks and dirt, I was exposed to the world as a complex machine that humans were treating as if it would continue to provide for us no matter what we did to it. After that, the smell of exhaust and burning rubber definitely began to rub me the wrong way.

It sounds like you had started to give up your fascination with cars altogether.

Actually, yes, for a certain period of time I did lose interest in cars. The realities of the effect that burning fuel has on the environment, wars, national security and the economy had kind of squashed my boyish car lust.

As it turns out, though, it was impossible to take that car lust away completely. It was still in there festering, looking for an opportunity to grab hold of me again. I found it in alternative fuels, electric cars, and new technologies that promise to bring giant leaps in fuel efficiency.

So what kinds of cars do you lust after now?

The amazing thing is that the automotive world that I now lust after is very similar to the one of my childhood–only now those Porsches have giant batteries and hybrid drivetrains, and the McLaren's are made of ultra lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic. There are so many cool examples of green cars these days it's like some car god answered my prayers.

So how did you end up becoming an automotive journalist?

It's crazy where life can take you if you're willing to take a few risks. After I left graduate school I was employed for several years in a government job trying to help farmers figure out how to reduce their impact on the environment while simultaneously making more money. It was thankless and incredibly stressful – everybody always seemed to have a reason to hate me. There's very little chance to be creative and move ahead in government.

As a way to let off a little steam and put my creativity to work I started writing blog posts for a friend in 2007. In 2009 I was clearly on track for a layoff from my government job and the economy had forced my family to move. By then I had made a name for myself in the green car world and figured there wouldn't be a better time to try and make green car automotive journalism work.

What started as a hobby and a way to rekindle my lost love for cars has now turned into a full time career dedicated to making the shifting world of the automobile–and the complications it brings with it – accessible and understandable to a larger audience. And while I do almost nothing related to my degrees in Geology and Soil Science anymore, the global understanding I built up during my studies always helps me to frame conversations in the context of the big picture.

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Conversation With a Green Car Guy - Autotrader