Dear Automotive Industry,
For far too long now, you’ve been cranking out cars that, with very few exceptions (the Kia Soul, the Honda Element, and the Toyota FJ Crusier come to mind), look like every other car on the road.
Back in the 1970s, when American automakers started taking advantage of the benefits of standardizing product lines so that assembly lines could crank out the companies’ various models more efficiently, the differences between cars have been steadily disappearing.
It used to be that a Cadillac was easily distinguishable from a Chevrolet, which was easily distinguishable from an Oldsmobile, which was easily distinguishable from a Pontiac—even when GM (along with Ford and Chrysler) began reducing the differences among them to such cosmetic details as grilles, headlights, tail lights, and hubcaps.
At the same time, a Honda automobile looked quite different from a Toyota, which looked different from a Datsun (Nissan), which looked different from a Ford, which looked different from a Volkswagen, and so on.
Fast forward to the present, if not a few years earlier, one SUV looks much like the rest of the SUVs of the same vintage on the road—just as one 4-door sedan looks much like every other 4-door sedan on the road. A BMW resembles a Toyota resembles a Buick resembles a—face it, every sedan on the road made during the last couple of decades resembles the stereotypical 1980s dream car, from the rounded edges to the aerodynamic lines.
In the next couple of years, I hope to buy a new car. Not that I don’t like my current vehicle, but I’ve been driving it for ten years now. During that time, the price of gasoline has more than doubled; while I’m getting a respectable 25 mpg overall, I’d like something a little more fuel efficient—either a hybrid or a diesel-engine model.
But I don’t like most of what passes for the available choices.
So, all you auto industry types—especially you car designers—if you want my business, it’s time to pay attention! Here’s a partial list of what I want to see in the next car I buy:
1. Actual bumpers
I don’t know what possessed you to believe that everybody wanted pseudo-bumpers of the same color and material of the rest of the car, but get it out of your head. The purpose of a bumper is to enable the driver of a vehicle to occasionally make that slight miscalculation and bump another car while parking without causing scrapes, scratches, or dents to either vehicle. It’s also there so that, in the typical fender-bender, a minor dent won’t cost upwards of $1,300 to get repaired. And, in an emergency, a real bumper makes it possible for the driver of one car to give another driver’s car a push when it runs out of gas and the driver needs to get it to a gas station, or to at least get it out of the intersection and/or off the road in an expedient manner.
2. No more “high-butt” trunks
Trunks that are high but shallow are useless for anything but the occasional bags of groceries. And the lids don’t shut with any kind of authority. And they look really fucking stupid, all squared off—but with rounded edges. Which leads me to the next couple of items…
3. No more “aerodynamic styling”
I understand you want to improve fuel efficiency in the cheapest way possible, and, since you haven’t bothered to make any substantial changes to combustion engine technology since the Model T, that means you have to fall back on changing the shape of the plastic shell you put on the frame.
But guess what? It’s boring. Almost every car now has that same overall wedge-like shape—hence the “high-butt” trunks that y’all have become so fond of. (Butts fall over time. Get over it.) And almost every car has that annoying window line that follows the wedge. I know you think it looks cool, but it results in crap visibility for those of use who actually have to drive the damned thing.
Worst of all is that the resulting angles seemed designed to produce the maximum reflection of direct sunlight into the eyes of everyone around, whether that be other drivers, or pedestrians—or some poor schmuck sitting in a Starbucks somewhere writing a blog post…
Couldn’t you just work on improving the engines for once (I will admit you’re on to something with this hybrid thing, though), and give us an occasional boxy vehicle—one that doesn’t look like a freaking toy? (I’m looking at you, Honda and Toyota.)
4. Get rid of the rounded edges and cute stuff
Too many new cars on the road look like reincarnated anime characters. Say what you will about Hummers—at least they’re not cute.
5. Get rid of the distractions
Yes, I know that many of my generation are whiny bastards who require constant self-gratification and can’t stand the slightest distraction that they haven’t themselves created. But stop coddling us!
A car does not need a DVD player! Sure, maybe it shuts up the kids—but it also distracts other drivers, who stop paying attention to the rest of the road in order to figure out what episode of Spongebob Squarepants is playing in your fucking minivan.
Cell phones and texting while driving are becoming illegal in many place because drivers who insist on talking on their phones and/or texting while driving are obnoxious assholes who are obvious to everything around them—as they weave in their lanes on the freeway going 30 mph below the speed limit, fail to use turn signals, and become incapable of understanding traffic signals. So don’t give them an excuse by adding Bluetooth so they can chat away obliviously at length. You (and they) should be better than that.
You can keep GPS, if only because it saves countless thousands of men (including me) from having to reluctantly stop and ask for directions.
6. Locking gas caps/lids
Since the mid-1990s, I’ve had locking gas caps on my car. My 1995 Honda Civic had an actual lock that had to be opened with the car key, while my VW Jetta Wagon has a lever on the inside of the car that opens the lid which enables you to get to the gas cap.
A few months ago, I got a loaner while I was having my car serviced. When I stopped to get gas, I couldn’t find anything to open the lid so I could get to the gas cap. I had to call the dealer to find out that all I needed to do was to press on the lid, and it would open.
Gas is over $4 a gallon, folks. WTF? At today’s prices, I want a lock on my gas compartment lid! What would that cost you, a buck or three? I’ll pay it. Add it to the freakin’ car!
7. Stop looking at what your competitors are doing
Give your cars some distinctive features. As much as I deride the Honda Element, Kia Soul, Toyota FJ Cruiser, and Hummer, at least these vehicles (all SUVs, except for the Soul) don’t look like everything else. (Neither does the Jeep Wrangler, for that matter. The Jeep Compass, on the other hand…)
Face it, guys. What I really want is something beyond the limited choices y’all have been giving us for the last couple of decades. I’ll bet that if we’d had better choices, two of Detroit’s Big Three wouldn’t have required this last bailout. Think about it.
(May 26, 2012)
Right on!!! Although in a society where Wal-Mart is king and the mom-and-pop stores are dying, I think this rant will fall on deaf ears. The masses want uniformity and standardization. The nail that sticks out gets hit with the hammer. Sigh…