- Hero image by Matt Parsons

Cars, Human Nature, & Doom of Consumerism

The worst thing a car-maker would like to hear from you is a sincere confession: “You have produced the best car ever! It is all I'll ever need!”

3y ago

June 28, 2014. Cloudy day at Coventry, UK. Jaguar enthusiasts held their meet at the square in front of the transport museum. One of the cars presented was 1929 Austin Swallow Seven Tourer. The man driving it, a gray-haired gentleman, stood aside and spoke of his experience. All I managed to grasp was that the car had been with him throughout his entire life. Moreover, he planed to drive it and service it until he would be able to. What a hell of a man! What a disaster!

Falling in love with your car, caring about it too much, servicing and crafting it – this is unthinkable! Intolerable! We are living in the world of consumerism which appraises only “wow” things which did not exist yesterday. We used to need more, better, and now!

Consumerism in the automotive industry is neither good, nor bad. On the one hand, it pushes you towards buying new cars on the expense of good-old-proven vehicles, which, actually, may perform quite well. On the other hand, through buying new cars you invest money into new technologies, what ensures the progress in the automotive industry. A closed circle here: purchasing new car → investing into new technologies → having new levels of comfort, enjoyment, and security on the market → purchasing new car. The “more, better, and now” rule, actually, moves humanity forward.

What is more, making reliable and long serving vehicles does not pay off. This is not only because the technological progress stalls, but also the entrepreneurs become reluctant to invest into automotive business. Japanese “car crisis” of 1980-90ss is a good illustration here. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and other makers became victims of their own success. Japanese cars of that time appeared to be “too reliable” if compared with European, American, and Korean analogues. This resulted in fact that people purchased new cars quite actively, drove them for a long time, and rarely purchased spare parts. Thus, Japanese companies were under-receiving revenues for spare parts what was not the case for competitors. This triggered serious financial complications for some.

I don't want to say here that Japanese manufacturers produce less reliable cars today. Absolutely not! What has changed, imho, is that Europeans, Americans, and Koreans learned to do things better.

Surely, you may be picky and ask: “What about classic cars?” Good question. But... how many owners of the classic cars do you personally know? How many of them live in your area? How many of them drive their classics on a daily basis? What I want so say here is that classic cars are not making weather in the world of automotive consumerism. Already not. Museums await majority of them.

The progress of the humanity is, actually, “limited” by the laws of physics and sober logics. Let me show it on alternative example. Once I was fond of photography. To save money, I purchased 1970s lenses with adapters and mounted them onto my 2010s DSLR camera. Surely, no auto-features worked, the color transfer was not the best (these lenses were made for monochrome pictures), but the overall sharpness and quality of pictures was satisfactory. I paid around €50 per item instead of €500. What I mean here is that the technology of how lenses are made has not changed with time. Physics of light retraction, as well as the allocation of convex and concave lenses, remained the same. What changed was the quality of glass and the number of extra features lenses were equipped with.

Transferring the example with lenses onto cars, thousands of engineers modernized the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th century, but none could radically change its modus operandi. Therefore, Ford Model A and Ford Mustang Mk6 GT have comparatively “similar” engines. They make the vehicle move through converting the energy of controlled petrol explosions into rotation and passing it to the wheels. What have changed is the efficiency, ergonomics, and reliability of engines. Apart from this, engineers developed the car as a concept, making it more comfortable, user-friendly, and safe. Therefore, Mustang goes much better than Model A. This does not mean, however, that the latter became undrivable. The values of consumerism may be questioned here.

Surely, you may be picky and ask: “What about Tesla?” Good question, however the case looks similar to the one with classic cars. Electric engines were considered by Henry Ford as early as 1890s, but he concluded that appropriate batteries to feed them were not even on a horizon. As for today, Tesla is a technological breakthrough, but still can not be considered as a gamechanger. It may become such in future, though. What will again prove the validity of the “more, better, now” rule.

Speaking particularly of my personal “consumerism dilemma,” the '97 Mazda 323F I own is marvelous. Sport looking city car. It gives me everything I need. It brings fun. It is a head-turner and no one believes that Cristine is 20 years old. It is well-equipped with some never-being-stock options introduced manually (f.e. multimedia steering wheel or on-board computer). The human-vehicle connection is very strong in me.

But mates, Christine is 20 years old! Rubber parts are not that flexible any more, some of them are not fitting tightly. Indicators start failing one after another, mechanic parts are getting worn (f.e. last summer I had to replace clutch, this summer throttle and catalyst). From time to time rust appears in different places. Surely, it is very cheap to fix everything. Replacements are very affordable (f.e. new clutch cost €120, new catalyst €80, used throttle in a good condition around €20). Insurance is also below all my expectations. I have also a very good mechanic who knows every screw in this car. But... Sometimes I feel that I'm getting tired. I respect Christine's age and recognize her right for whims, but that's not the way I would like our coexistence to look like.

And this is the moment when the human-car connection starts shaking. On the one hand, I can not imagine that it is ever possible to betray and sell Christine. It looks illogical for me as the car, even if something goes wrong, still runs pretty well and never ruins my budget. On the other hand, I'm getting tired of anxieties and challenges. Spare parts can not be bought new. Used parts in a good condition also diminish in numbers. My dreams of car upgrades become questioned by my calculations of buying a new one with all upgrades already installed.

Unfortunately, the moment of saying good-bye seems imminent. Capitalism will eventually win. Unless...

… you know, mates, I admired that gentlemen with his 1929 Austin Swallow.

#acadrive, #smalltribesrule, #classic-cars, #jaguar, #mazda, #spotting, #spotted, #cars, #story, #jdm, #japan, #japanese, #coventry, #UK, #austin, #lantis, #astina, #mazdalife, #323F, #mazdaspeed, #citycar, #citycars, #driving, #japanese, #japancars, #japanese-cars, #classiccars, #classics, #classiccar, #consumerism, #capitalism, #car-philosophy, #philosophy

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Comments (26)

  • This is the reason I am on Drivetribe. Brilliantly put together and very mind stimulating!

      3 years ago
  • Of course, I am in car country here in the U.S. It is not as common as the other cars on the road, but if I am driving for an hour when it isn't raining I am pretty sure to see at least one on the road. Many people here have more than one classic car, so driving one daily isn't that unusual. There are car shows almost every weekend almost all year round (Dec and Jan tend to be quiet). I feel compelled to hear all the stories of each car and find that along with the styling that is missed in modern day to be just enough to satisfy me. No doubt they put a lot of money into them and it is driven by passion and not sensibility. I hate to agree with you that yes the future does have to come - eventually - but I see nothing wrong in preserving the past.

      3 years ago
    • One of my friends, a great car enthusiast, has been raised in the U.S. He complains that it is impossible in Europe to buy new spare parts for cars from 1970s. He says that Mustang owners in the U.S. can get any original part from the...

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        3 years ago
    • I agree ... I just don't want to agree fully. I guess I am staring down the road of cynicism.

        3 years ago
  • This was a great article! It is true, and unfair, that when manufacturers make a product so good it last twenty years, they lose out really.

    I'd be really happy to own a classic car. And I think with the passage of time, from what I've heard, classic car ownership has become a better catered-to hobby. Many car brands do offer classic car owners great spare parts assistance. It's not cheap, though.

      3 years ago
    • I'm glad you found this article worth your attention.

      As for the classic cars, I'm still trying to find the exact meaning of this concept. In other words: what makes cars become classic? What is the regularity behing this? Does this happen...

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        3 years ago
  • Great article! My personal consumerism dilema, beyond my disgust with the abuse of human/natural resources necessary to manufacture products, is how marketing manipulates us into thinking that we desperately need brand new products. Associating price with "quality" is something else that kills me and that also impoverishes humanity, as it creates an even bigger social conflict than the one we had before capitalism.

      3 years ago
    • Thank you for your comment, Patricia.

      My point is that new products are really needed to ensure the progress & survivability of human kind. This said, I agree that the issue of optimization of the effort-result dependency remains...

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        3 years ago
  • Thanks for the interesting reading. The constant struggle between tradition and innovation!

      2 years ago