We are on the brink of a new world order. The ways that the eventual new reality will settle into being is happening on all sorts of fronts. With that, we’re seeing some of the worst traits of our collective psyche rise to the surface. Greed as a steamroller to protect our collective fragile egos manifests in multiple ways in the United States. One place where it isn’t analyzed in an above board fashion are the choices buyers are making when selecting new motor vehicles.
The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) opened its doors to the public this week. By the looks of the new products on offer, you’d think it was 1996 all over again. Large, hulking trucks and SUVs with silhouettes that cast shadows over what we considered gargantuan 20 years ago paraded forth against dark, slightly apocalyptic set designs.
They all had a vaguely aggressive look that provides a united front of banality more tragic than any cookie cutter cost cutting effort from General Motors in the 1980’s. As I scrolled through our latest batch of offerings, I was kind of shocked that Cadillac would offer it’s new XT6 in such an electric blue shade until maybe 15 seconds later I was looking at the 2020 Explorer with a new nose job.
Meanwhile, our once heralded chariot of the future, the Toyota Prius, has been in sales decline for a few years now. Granted, Hybrid technology is available everywhere, even in Toyota’s fleet of compact and mid-sized crossover utility vehicles.
The Prius does speak to a certain demographic, however. The (sometimes false, often holier-than-thou) intellect that surrounded the ‘life-style’ choice of buying one spoke to a true conservation effort, the recognition that as a people (Americans in particular) as a species (Humanity as a whole) we do eat up quite a fair bit of resources.
This ideology serves vehicles well during times of economic distress. The Prius reflects other success stories in times of economic strife dating back to the Studebaker Champion. That welterweight economy winner revived the independent brand in the wake of the 1938 recession.
Eisenhower’s recession brought a wave of European imports in the late 50’s ill suited to American Driving conditions, and all surviving American passenger car manufacturers responding with a fleet of more sensible choices able to make an even 20 miles to the gallon by 1961.
However, in terms of choices Americans in particular would rather make with their cars, these momentary blips of conservation to maintain private vehicle mobility are short term success stories. It’s odd that we owe some of the best traits of the automobile to them. The Champion bought a sense of weight savings will always benefit economy and performance. The 1950 Nash Rambler reminded us a sense of luxury, quality control and variety of models to choose from should not be an exclusive reserved for large and in charge cars at the top of respective manufacturers product lines.
The Corvair, at its best, reminded us that the smallest, cheapest option need not be a penalty box to drive. The lone surviving Ford non S/CUV Truck, the Mustang, owes its security as the choice of Baby Boomers still having a life crisis and/or Hertz Customers that can’t do a vacation without a convertible to a problematic, bean counted to its own detriment Chevrolet from 60 years ago.
Looking at the parade of “mine is bigger than yours” against the framing of Marie Kondo on Netflix, The APA rolling out new guidelines on how to discuss masculinity and Gillette ads telling us #TimesUp, I wonder what to make of the vehicles and our vehicle choices. Is the new Kia Telluride actually gonna bring the certain maybe hundred thousand of buyers ‘joy’ after purchase? Or is it just another place for us to hoard more stuff that we don’t use, yet are convinced to consume to keep what remains of our tattered goods economy afloat?
If we were completely honest with ourselves these SUVs loaded to the gills with navigation and all-wheel drive aren’t any more adventure provoking than the Corvair, or Taurus or Corolla/Camry they replaced. Driving on ice and snow is dangerous and off-roading is a lot of dirt most people that don’t hunt their own food don’t want to be bothered with.
Yet, still, perhaps moreso than the postwar “keeping up with the Joneses” suburbanist pissing contests, social media drives a need to be seen and validated as solitary winners. In reality, we’re a part of an imperialist experiment in rapid decline, because we collectively can’t understand our own banality, our own need to actually live in community, to think of the consequences of our choices, and truly highlight what brings you joy if you step away from the utilitarian aspects of what we buy.
There’s plenty of schizophrenic, time warp beginning again moments in our culture nearly 20 years into the 21st Century. I started out thinking about all that I was seeing in terms of cars that aren’t really cars anymore because I wanted (and I’m still formulating ideas around) to write a requiem for the 4 door sedan.
I started that path into writing about cars today ‘cause I haven’t really written about cars in over a year. I looked over my vehicle ownership history and see that, but for the once car I was forced to drive in high school, 20 years of vehicle ownership has solely been sedans. Thing is, all the sedans that I’ve owned have had some coupe model based on the same chassis bits. Why did I always choose the sedans? The coupes often looked a lot cooler.
I don’t know if everyone gives themselves the chance to reflect on their consumer choices; what they consume, what they buy. Granted, I’m in my late 30’s and broke; I have no money to just randomly throw at my needs problems. I wonder, in the coming new world order, however, will people be forced to think about their sets of wheels like I have for all of my driving life.
5 thoughts on “Dynamic Divergence: The New #Road Order”
It’s good to see you’re back and still writing thought provoking articles .
When I was a young man, I usually had Sedans or Pickups (always short bed steppers) , the sedans because I was the one who always drove, the trucks because utility .
Now that I’m old I have mostly Coupes, I don’t often carry passengers these dayze .
Nice to see that you ken the difference between ‘broke’ and ‘poor’, the second being a state of mind, not your wallet .
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To be honest, I won’t be as prolific as I was mid-decade, but will still do a post from time to time.
Great, bang-on essay, Laurence, and with so many points to touch on, I could riff on them all night. Instead, I will say that as much as I love a great coupe, especially an American personal luxury coupe, I long for hatchbacks and I positively lust for station wagons (Vista Cruiser, baby!). My current car is a big, front-drive, V6-powered, made-in-Canada, American sedan (my first!), which compared to today’s tall cars appears, to my eyes at least, stylishly swoopy, even coupe-like, dare I say, but with the convenience of 4-doors, a big back seat and a voluminous truck. If only it came in a wagon version (pant, pant).
I think the only current 2019 model I have any lust for is the Buick Regal Tour X. And even then I wish it didn’t come with such SUV-ish paraphernalia.
Understood Lawrence ;
You have a life to live .
Your thoughts include not only cars but American cuture and I think you have an important viewpoint .