Sunday, October 02, 2016

Teenagers won't dream of cars anymore?

I was perhaps ten years old when my parents--ahem, my father, given that he made most of the budget decisions--decided that the old car would not work with the new sky-high petrol prices.  The family joke is that my younger brother refused to walk, having been spoiled by the car.

The car meant something back then.  I remember Holden Caulfield commenting in The catcher in the rye that people are always dreaming of their next cars--even when they drive out of the dealer in their new car!  And that continues even now.  I seem to make my own stories about people based on the type of cars they drive.  Even the car that I drive has a reputation for the owners being dull, boring, careful, and everything else along those lines.

In the future that is arriving, cars might not mean a damn thing.  Think about the science fiction movies that you may watched.  Not the science fiction of a gazillion years from now, but set in the near-future.  Recall how boring the transport mechanisms are in those movies?  They are boxy and utilitarian. That's it.  There is no art, there is no story, no life about those transport units.

This essay, by a chair-professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, argues that cars will never be sexy again.  With developments like Uber and self-driving cars, "the automotive logic of the 20th century—“cars as luxury, cars as freedom, cars as sex”" has been turned upside down.
cars are becoming leased appliances, made and sold with efficiency to suppliers intent on renting them out for minutes at a time to customers who would rather forget ever having been inside them. Nothing could be less sensual than the boring universe of business-to-business fleet sales—except, maybe, the boring universe of business-to-business fleet-sales component supply.
I suppose the boring future will be another version of Henry Ford's line that any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.

When that future arrives, there is one thing that I will miss most in this part of the world--the bumper stickers.  Some vehicles have awesome statements in their bumper stickers, including those that I disagree with, of course.  Once I saw one of those huge pick-up trucks with a bumper-sticker with an arrow pointing to the exhaust pipe.  The sticker read "Your Prius can suck on this."  The other day I saw a small car with stickers all over the bumper, the rear frame, and half of the sides as well.  That kind of a personalization won't be there in the future?  It will be a boring future even for this dull and boring guy!

My favorite bumper-sticker had truly my kind of humor.  What was in the sticker?  "I hate bumper stickers!" ;)


Ramesh said...

Oh - you have to work a lifetime in a consumer product company (Anne and me are the only qualified folks) to understand that good Professor from Georgia is utterly wrong. He doesn't have a clue of consumer behaviour and wont last one day in Unilever or P&G.

Cars will not become a "leased appliance" and "not meaning a damn thing" for a long long time. In fact they never buy even the most trivial and boring product that way. Even a bar of soap is never bought that way. Every purchase decision, even of the most commonplace product, is an emotional decision combining a whole host of factors.

Take an example of taking a flight from Point A to Point B. Its exactly the same Boeing 777 aircraft. It takes exactly the same time to do the journey. There are exactly the same number of crew in the plane. Its going from exactly the same airport to the same airport. The seat dimensions are the same. The leg room is also precisely equal, down to the second decimal. The middle seat is equally awful. The food makes you long for soylent. And so on and so on. But one is 10% cheaper than the other.

And yet you will fly Singapore Airlines rather than Air India.

Rest easy my friend. Bumper stickers will never go away. Horn OK Please :)

Sriram Khé said...

Maybe I didn't explain myself ... let me give this another try with the airlines and flying example you have given.
Back when you and I had our first flying experiences, back in those years, flying was a big deal. There was a charm. There was an excitement. Now, flying has become a routine thing. So routine that people in sweatpants and gym shorts boarding the plane is not unusual anymore.
It will be a different kind of an impact on cars and drivers.

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