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Old 08-12-2011, 04:52 PM
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The State of The Car

Last night Kitdy and I were talking and kvetching about the lack of commentary on new cars on UCP. This may be because we forumites are becoming old and lazy or because the majority of cars coming out these days don’t warrant it. So I’d like to leave this thread here for all of us who have some random car-related musings to get off our chests or those who are experiencing the Dog-days productivity slump and need something to do.

To say that automobiles are currently in flux is a bit misleading, because they always are, but I feel that we are approaching some sort of watershed moment after which cars will emerge a different breed than they currently are and people’s views of them will change as well.

Obviously the most visible trends in the automotive world are the varyingly-pathetic attempts at greenwashing and a few earnest attempts to allow Earth and car to healthily fraternize. I think that there may be other more subtle and perhaps more-interesting trends. People say that societies’ cultural tendencies cycle every 20 years or so; if this is actually true the value of a “premium” brand may have already reached its zenith. If the ‘00s were truly a mirror of the status and materially-obsessed ‘80s we may emerge into a new era of honest motoring aided by double-dip GFCs and all that fun. Alternatively, the monetary-status one-upmanship may be replaced by those flaunting their ecological-soundness. Over here that may mean the repopularization of sedans, wagons, and even hatches compared to SUVs, crossovers, and trucks.

While this new era of honest motoring may be refreshing in many ways, it requires shedding past pretensions and traditions; Mustangs now have four valves per cylinder and DOHC, Chryslancia makes the Themahundred-C, Mazda may axe their rotary etc... These may be hard pills for the gearhead to swallow but may well be necessary for the industry to move forward.

Diluting this honesty over here will be CAFE’s standards for the American automobile. Rather than force the consumer to make a hard choice by levying taxes on gas, the manufacturers are responsible for magically summoning up miles per gallon out of thin air. To do this they will no doubt resort to plug-in hybrid and Volt-like vaporware. This NIMBYistic and, frankly, stupid attitude towards increased efficiency will not actually move the industry forward as much. Gas will stay the same price, but new cars will get more expensive, so people will hold onto their used tank for much longer, hurting the environment and the car industry. If gasoline prices are brought up, not only do the Feds get a much-needed pile of shekels, but customers are incentivized to pick cars that in the real world will return reasonable mileage figures. This will create demand for genuinely frugal vehicles, not just ones that look like they are on the EPA’s dynos. There are definitely times when the market cannot be trusted to regulate itself, but I feel that higher gas prices would be a much less artificial push in the right direction than CAFE’s standards. I am not sure how Europe is handling it, but governments tend to be the same brand of stupid the world over.

So, as we proceed there will be two warring forces; the simple and light economical car and the ecobarge, struggling to overcome its mass with all sorts of technical wizardry. I should note that that doesn’t mean the simple car will be bereft of computer, on the contrary the ability for ECUs to adapt engine to their conditions is a boon to both economy and power, when I say simple I mean lacking in eco ancillaries like battery packs that do more harm than good. However, the CAFE standards are guaranteed, whereas the paring-down of car is not, but I’m trying to look for a silver lining. I’ll now look at a few cars that I think are what might lay ahead.

Mazda2 & 3 Skyactiv
This (the 2) represents exactly what I think is good; a small naturally-aspirated gasoline-powered car that, through novel use of existing tech and clever improvement upon the Otto cycle, gets incredible mileage. Its econobox status means that it need not be weighed down by gratuitous “luxury.” It is without pretension. (I also imagine a rotary swap would be hilarious.)

Ford Taurus
“Ooh, look what amazing mileage we can eek out of this 90-ton behemoth!”
It shouldn’t weigh that much, then. If you can make an oversized vehicle return passable mileage, why not make a normal-weighing vehicle that returns good mileage? (Though I suppose my love of B-bodies makes me a hypocrite.) I view cars like these as a waste of good engine technology.

Ford Mustang
Another Blue Oval; this one though has remained simple and has mostly stayed to its roots. Sure, it now has two or three cams too many and eight or sixteen valves to many, but it is still a very honest car. I can only hope that it continues to be and maybe even gets a lighter platform in the future.
Etc…

I know I have only covered USDM cars because as much as I read about other markets, it’s the only one I feel confident commenting on.

Other Trends

As for other trends, I think globalization of lineups may continue at its current rate or even accelerate if there is enough similitude in legislation that brings the previously-disparate needs of global markets closer together. This will have many drawbacks, with a decline in product diversity being the most ominous. If carmakers decide to force demand onto markets when they are dissimilar, the product may flop in one or the other, or even worse, like any good compromise, leave both parties dissatisfied. This is another inevitability, I think, that will probably not do any favors to the world of the gearhead, but at least it’ll shut up the “grass is always greener” types.
I also don’t think that large automotive groups are quite done killing off their problem children. Something has to give at Chrysler/Fiat; on the Chrysler side the Chrysler brand is the weakest, I’d say, and on the Fiat side all signs point to Lancia. These dead brand may receive a second lease of zombified life at the hands of the Chinese, which for you “death before dishonor” folks is even worse.
I also want to think VW will implode in the near future.

Styling

Style-wise I’m not really sure where things are going. LEDs will continue to make cars’ front ends chintzy. They will also probably migrate arears. There is hope, though, Audi who long pioneered advances in tacky styling, like LEDs, have visually slimmed down their range. They have significantly reduced the high (and rising) beltline and gunslit window phenomena. Audi’s work in the past has been emulated by the rest of the automotive industry, and for once, I hope they continue to do so minus the LEDs.

State of modified culture

The stance scene is near its end. Lowering a car will never go out of fashion, but I think people are beginning to realize that a lot of what was done in the name of stance and fitment is a little excessive. I think more functional mods, be they for drift or track will see a resurgence.
Hot rods will emerge simpler out of the horrible ‘90s custom-fabbed gaudy color things (whatever they’re called) and the more cluttered rat scene. I don’t think the rat scene will fade, I just think it will shed some of it stupider baggage.

I know that I am often disappointed by the lack of thought that I and others put into their posts here, so while this post may not be well thought out and organized, I did put thought into it and hope you guys can do the same in your responses.
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