Pleasing The People – Automotive Style

Three or four years ago BBC2 daringly broadcast a Victorian melodrama called The Crimson Petal And The White (from the novel by Michael Faber). It included nudity and illicit, feverish sex scenes. Whilst the mini-series was running I was out and about and happened upon a small, neat elderly man who was telling his friends all about it.

“Filth!”, he declaimed, rolling the word lasciviously off his tongue, “Disgusting!” making sure everyone within earshot heard him. I saw the show too and enjoyed it hugely. No doubt the old chap dotes on Mel and the unattainable Sue and their French fancies but I use cookery programmes as a cure for insomnia. This is the problem television executives have: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. My guess is that car manufacturers have exactly the same problem.

For example, I have seen many surveys that show that a majority of the public neither trust nor want driverless cars. One esteemed colleague used the expression ‘homicide by software’ and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment either physically or financially. The technology is running before it can walk because the car makers are being buffeted by political motives and the climate arguments that currently hold sway. Make no mistake though: this is the future because, as you know, we the great unwashed public have very little say in the matter.

Conversely, there are many people who embrace the technology. DriveWrite has recently been followed by a group called ‘Driverless Cars Now’ on Twitter. They are based in San Francisco and they can’t wait for us all to be shuttled around in vehicles that can be controlled by outside forces. I welcome their follow but I can’t in all honesty follow back because I don’t agree with their views. (Note: At time of publication, they have unfollowed me, the rotters.)

This is what the car companies have to deal with. They are being pulled in two directions at once, so because real life use of autonomous cars is still a long way off they are concentrating on turning cars into lifestyle products because that’s what they think we want. There is also a pervading element of ‘because we can make it, you shall have it’. The downside of this of course is that cars become increasingly complex, beyond even the skills of the talented home mechanic. The end result is that we pay through the nose for repairs.

In fact – although to be fair they are like-minded people – most that I speak to don’t want all the connectivity and electronic wizardry being offered and tend not to use it if fitted to the cars they drive. On the other hand, we are seeing brainless morons actively using this kit as they drive along and who can’t possibly be giving their full attention to the job in hand, reinforcing the view that they should leave the driving to the car. Pleasing the motoring public has never been so difficult as views have become increasingly polarised.

The result of all this that there are some cars available today, mentioning no names, that are terminally dull to drive. I am lucky enough to drive many cars over the course of a year; some cars I anticipate with relish, others are just part of the job. Some, like various Skoda offerings, don’t look exciting but turn out to be excellent drivers. Some cars though are the automotive equivalent of watching paint dry. You wish for some sort of magic viagra-like ingredient to perk some life into them. There’s nothing wrong with them as such, they are simply not drivers’ cars. They are for people who don’t get pleasure from cars or driving and for whom the driverless car is being developed.

Give me a long bonnet, a short back, rear-wheel drive, a V8 and something to play music with and I’m happy. Alternatively I would be equally contented with a car that is small, light and cheap and that comes with a fizzy engine and great handling. I don’t need bells and whistles; just a decent ride. At least I’m easily pleased.
Geoff Maxted