"Are Cars Still Special?
Statistics say that fewer and fewer people are into cars and driving and one of the reasons for this may be the fact that brands have slowly been diluting their ethos over the decades.
Sure, the widespread proliferation of tech, in all walks of life, has given young people other things to be passionate about instead of cars (which a few decades ago had a much more romantic allure than they do today), but I think this isn’t the only reason.
The automakers themselves are partly to blame, because in the quest to keep companies profitable and ahead of competition, many seemed to have lost sight of what made them great in the past. And the thing that set them apart from rivals (whatever it happened to be), that thing they care so deeply about, was swept away in the quest for outright profits.
And I totally understand that companies need to rake in the cash to stay afloat, and that keeping the business going trumps making a unique product (if it means you might go under because of it). However, it’s sad to see carmakers copying one another’s formulas for success, instead of trying to come up with something new and better.
Here are a couple of examples of cool and unique cars (the kinds that create fans) made by companies that shortly after launching these models went under. The 1988 AMC Eagle, one of the world’s first proper crossover vehicles as well as the last (and really rather cool) 2010 Saab 9-5. And the list could go on and on, as we move back through the decades.
What I’m getting at here is that interesting cars don’t necessarily equal strong sales, and as manufacturers have embraced this more, their cars have become more and more similar. Manufacturers are also collaborating with one another more these days, especially when it comes to platform, engine and tech sharing.
Even though there seems to be a plethora of models to choose from these days, they’re actually all based on a much smaller number of platforms and only their interior and exterior design makes them different. Thus, being loyal to a specific brand is not as relevant as it once was.
Take the new Peugeot 208 and Opel Corsa. They look dramatically different both in terms of sheet metal and interior, yet they are almost exactly the same car underneath. Or how about choosing a VW group vehicle (from VW, SEAT, Skoda or Audi) - most of them are underpinned by the versatile MQB platform, and they all feel about the same to drive, regardless of body style.
What’s the incentive to buy any of these cars over another one that’s essentially the same underneath, differing only in style and through arbitrary choices of which cars get what engines?
Nowadays you can buy Mercedes-Benz cars with Renault engines, a front-wheel drive BMW, a Toyota Supra that’s actually a BMW and an electric Porsche that’s the same underneath as an Audi. Mechanical differences are not as extensive as you might be led to believe if you ask the engineers and it’s really all about what logo you want on the front and back of your vehicle.
Basically, manufacturers will sell you anything they think you’re going to buy and the notions of tradition is only important in videos promoting new models (with which they have little if anything in common). I’m not saying new cars are bad and that things were better in the olden days, but in past decades, manufacturers took more pride in the cars they made, not just the money these cars brought in.
Maybe they were still tainted with thought patterns instilled in them by people who had witnessed and been part of the industrial revolution, but they really took a lot of pride in building good, beautiful and innovative cars. Nowadays, though, I think we’re witnessing a banalization of many industries that used to be a great source of pride - now they’re only a source of pride if they’re a source of profit.
Had you asked the average car buyer in the 1970s if a car was more than the sum of its parts, I’m pretty sure the overwhelming response would have been positive, whereas nowadays most buyers just view cars as transportation pods to take them from point A to point B.
Manufacturers themselves are changing too; they are looking more like tech companies and less like the traditional automakers we came to know. And this shift will keep accelerating in the future and, in my view, this will result in cars with less and less personality, cars people won’t be fascinated or enthralled by like they used back in the good ol’ days (that probably ended in the 1980s or soon after)"