Sometimes it's the juxtaposition of multiple events rather than one apocalyptic cataclysm that makes it clear things will never again be as they have recently been.
So it was this week as General Motors shut down its High Performance Vehicle Group (HPVG) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood floated the idea of a government tax on how many miles you drive.
The HPVG decision was no surprise, given Detroit's perilous financial situation and apparent inability to force the United Auto Workers to accept anything remotely close to the kind of pension and health care cuts that must be made if GM and Chrysler are to survive without permanent government subsidies.
GM officials hastened to reassure performance car enthusiasts by noting that Ford not long ago shuttered its Special Vehicles Team (SVT), only to revive it more recently. GM flak Vince Muniga told Edmunds.com's Inside Line that regular production high performance vehicles like the reborn Camaro, Corvette ZR1 and Cadillac CTS-V are safe.
But Muniga also said all of GM's "high performance projects are on indefinite hold," and the engineering talent within HPVT is being transferred to work on "core products," which are GM's top priority for the foreseeable future.
Translated: Don't hold your breath waiting for the return of HPVT.
And it also means - absent major policy changes in Washington and dramatic improvements in auto sales generally - that the clock is ticking down for all high performance vehicles made by GM, regardless of whether they are the result of special products or regular production. Ditto for Chrysler and Ford.
It's only a matter of time now before "core products" can only mean "high mileage," "alternative fuels" and "zero emissions." The end times are on the horizon for the Corvette, Camaro, and high performance versions of the Cobalt, Colorado, Silverado, etc. etc. Get ready to say goodbye to Vipers and Shelby Mustanges, too.
Driving the point home is the LaHood Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax hint. The people calling the shots for Detroit now are all in Washington, and the most important of them aren't named "Timothy Geithner" nor are they working at the U.S. Treasury Department handing out TARP funds.
No, the people now deciding what kind of products will be made by Detroit are working in Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation and, most crucially, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Virtually to a man, these people hate privately owned cars and the individual autonomy they symbolize.
That means it's not just the kind of cars and trucks produced by the manufacturers' skunk works that are in Washington's cross-hairs, it's the very notion that all individual Americans ought by right be able to buy and drive the vehicle of their choice anywhere and anytime they choose.
Under the VMT, your car would be tracked via GPS by a satellite that would send the government data about how many miles you drive each time you drive. The government would tax you based on your total mileage. Several states, notably Massachusetts, are also looking at VMT proposals.
Advocates claim the VMT could replace the current federal gas tax and be used to finance construction of needed new roads and maintenance on existing roads. Critics note, however, that the government tracks gas sales, not individuals in their cars, as it would with a VMT.
That crucial difference would ultimately result, according to the critics, in an Orweillian system enabling the government to control who is allowed to drive where and when, and what they drive, in real-time.
LaHood hastily withdrew the VMT when resistance predictably and quickly surfaced, making President Barack Obama's political advisers nervous. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tersely said replacing the current federal gas tax with LaHood's VMT "is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration."
The Gibbs VMT disavowal doesn't, however, mean Obama rejects the idea of government regulating how much people drive, which is the policy goal behind the VMT. Thus, the significance of a former Republican congressman serving as Transportation Secretary touting a way for the federal government to track the movements of every individual vehicle in the country.
If VMT is out, they will find another way to achieve the same result. Environmentalists, "Smart Growth" advocates, urban planners in government at all levels, Members of Congress and their staffers, mass transit enthusiasts and other influential players on the national political scene have made clear for decades the kind of result they seek for private transportation and the individual autonomy. They want it gone.
Their ultimate goals include a massively centralized regulatory state with the power to force Americans into a mass migration from the suburbs back to big cities, with individual mobility to then be provided by public mass transit, thus minimizing or, ultimately, eliminating privately owned vehicles from the daily lives of most citizens. Whatever private vehicles will be allowed to exist will be glorified golf carts.
Once this basic goal is understood, it becomes clear why in recent decades these people have always been found in opposition to policies and programs required to maintain a transportation system based upon private ownership and individual mobility.
They oppose construction of new roads clearly needed to eliminate the traffic congestion that chokes commerce and commuting. They oppose new suburban developments. They seek to divert tax funds to mass transit that is used by a tiny portion of the traveling public.
They oppose allowing development of new oil and gas resources in places like the Outer Continental Shelf.
They oppose construction of new c0al-fired power plants. They always demand stricter fuel economy and emissions standards. For these people, "carbon-free" is just another way of saying "mass transit."
They seek to make driving an automobile a miserably inconvenient and expensive proposition. Cars let individuals decide where they go and when. Mass transit lets government decide where individuals go and when.
And these are the people in Washington who are deciding how you and I will get around in years to come.