- Hero image by Matt Parsons

Cars, Human Nature, & Doom of Consumerism

2y 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.

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