Will we see the end of car culture within our lifetimes? Will we see the end of car culture within our lifetimes?

Posted in Life by Jim Zeigler | Views: 5585

Here's a reality for many car guys: You pull up next to a Prius at a stoplight and look over at the driver with a mix of pity and condescension. You think to yourself “You have the money for a new car and you buy that?! You could’ve had a dozen Miatas/Fox bodies/busted-ass E30s for the money!” Then you roar off in your $3500 scrapheap, winding out the first few gears to remind them of their mistake and offset their carbon neutrality. Automotive enthusiasm comes with a bit of smug superiority. And, at this point in history, we’ve never been more on the defensive.

The car guy is a dying breed. Studies show that teenage enthusiasm for the open road is waning, with AAA finding that only 44% of eligible teens get their license within a year of turning 16. Crash test regulations are putting more glass, metal, and plastic between the coddled cockpit and the road; never again will we comfortably rest our elbows on the driver’s side sill on a windows-down day. And the average complexity of a car has evolved to the point that an electrical engineering degree will soon be required to change sparkplugs. Imagine the aspiring tinkerer opening his hood and seeing this:

Lexus
Nothing to see here, time to go watch Netflix.

The nail in the coffin to all of this is the sinister workings of the occultist convent known as the EPA. The 2025 fuel economy standards mandate an average fleetwide rating of 54.5mpg. Technology will catch up and make this a feasible goal in the next eleven years, but one thing is almost certain: the cars ain’t going to be fun to drive. The green world has no place for those who enjoy the sonorous sounds of combusting fossil fuels.

Talbot

To put it bluntly, the automotive scene as we know it has an end-date. And while it may not be completely in the ground by 2025, you can bet that we will attend the wake in our lifetimes. I see Google’s push for self-driving cars as the slowly-lowering pendulum. Can you imagine the company happy hour of the insurance industry the day their lobbyists manage to push through legislation requiring all cars to be automated? At least the analysts won’t have to drive themselves home drunk.
So hoo-rah, the car is dead. Stick a fork in ‘em, let’s move on to the next big thing (my money’s on sex-boxes that directly interface with porn websites).

Or is it? Let’s put down the gravedigger’s shovel to look at the positives here. The most obvious is the promise of decreased traffic congestion. Automated driving may be just the thing to get oblivious motorists out of the damn fast lane. With every subsequent new crop of young drivers caring less and less about cars, that means fewer shit-for-brains teenagers texting/Tweeting/playing Xbox while driving. Moreover, with more people riding public transportation, the massive SUVs of the world may stay in their garage a bit more often. Economics will be in our favor. A decreased demand for gasoline will coincide well with our growing domestic oil output to make gas cheaper. With the price for electric and hybrid cars coming down, it’s possible that people will unload their obsolete internal combustion vehicles for bargain-basement prices. Younger vintage car lovers have something to look forward to: as the boomers fade away, their prized classics will pass through the hands of apathetic relatives and into the ownership of enthusiasts.

Hudson
“Willing to trade for iPad”

The final solace is a grim one: we need to face the probable reality that the best cars have already been made. With today’s legislation and consumer preference, what company (besides the boutique brands) would take the risk of producing a car with a rotary engine or a V12? Hell, even the V8 has been backed into a corner by a horde of boost-crazed V6s. Take no heed of the rumor of the week; it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a 2400lb Miata or 9000rpm S2000 ever again. With the exception of a few outliers like the FR-S, the analog joy of driving has being forced out of existence by consumer preference.

Some will say this is an overly-pessimistic viewpoint, and they’d have a strong argument. Nothing has replaced the car as the ultimate expression of individuality; a cool iPhone case or cheeky graphic tee doesn’t have the impact of a handbuilt engine or a 3” suspension lift. You’d have a right to question the likelihood of the average consumer relinquishing control of the steering wheel to an automated system. Couple that with the geographical reality that public transport isn’t a viable option for many people and you could make a case that the car will never die.

To the doubters, I offer this retort: technology will prove you wrong, and the average American will let you down. The horse had its strong points when the intercontinental train system was introduced, and the train system had the same when air travel began. As tastes change, a DIY attitude towards cars will be looked at as an eccentric obsession even more than it already is. Capitalism forces change, and we’re just tagging along.

So let’s enjoy the ride. Drop the clutch when you’re next to that Prius. Take the turn at twice the posted limit. Live out the twilight days of the machines we love with as much fervor as possible before they pry the keys out of our cold-dead hands. Just because we’re living in the end of an era doesn’t mean we have to go quietly.

CotA


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