After Dan Neil ’87 MS earned a creative writing degree at East Carolina University, he came to NC State to get a master’s in English. The only problem was he could barely identify parts of a sentence, a potential setback for someone who aspired to be a professional writer.
But not only did Neil become a professional writer, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for columns he wrote for the Los Angeles Times. They were not typical columns about local politics and issues in the news. Neil writes about cars, and he is the only automotive writer to win journalism’s top prize.
Neil credits a lot of his success to NC State English professor Michael Grimwood, who was the director of the master’s program when Neil was at NC State. Grimwood would sit with Neil every Monday morning before class and teach him grammar.
Neil now writes an automotive column for The Wall Street Journal. He also writes about art and design.
Neil doesn’t just write about the latest cars — he gets to drive them as well. Porsches, BMWs and Lamborghinis are just a few of the cars Neil has test-driven in places from California to Portugal.
Neil was featured in the documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car,” directed by Chris Paine, which was released in January. In the documentary, Neil offers his take on electric cars and why they should be taken seriously.
Put simply, Neil thinks electric cars are amazing. However, when he watched the film for the first time, Neil was “embarrassed by his own optimism”. Things have gotten better, but in no way are they as good as he had hoped.
Neil says there are two big hurdles — technology and culture — to conquer before it is possible to accept the electric car as a standard mode of transportation. Neil says the technical barriers are falling fast, but the cultural barriers are becoming stronger.
“It hasn’t been a good two years for the electric car,” he says. Neil says a lot of the backlash electric cars are receiving, some from other auto critics, is the result of ignorance. Neil points out that electric cars emit less carbon than gasoline-fueled cars and that the battery will last forever. He says consumers can also update the software on electric cars so they don’t have to buy a new model.
Neil urges consumers to keep an open mind about electric cars. Figuring out a solution will involve failure and success in equal measure, he says, and it is not going to happen within a short span of time.
“It’s about the long game,” he says.
— Caitlin Barrett