Once, long ago in the mists of the 20th Century, people were satisfied with what they had when it came to material things. Austerity had taught them to be careful with money (unlike now). They expected things to last. For their motoring needs they purchased a family car and kept it pretty much until it had reverted to a brown organic state for want of galvanising.
The thought never occurred to those thrifty folk of yore to even consider buying one of those bright baubles of the automotive future winking at them like harlots from the glass frontage of those new ne’er-do-well car dealerships. Even the weak of will who may have been swayed to the dark side soon realised that selling a car just for the sake of getting another one was akin to buying a novelty sweater. It seems like a good idea at the time.
Times change. We have become greedy, shallow and fickle. These days there is simply too much stuff and we want it and we want it now. The temptations are too great. Man cannot live by 3G alone, apparently. A fellow who insists that the pair of velvet loons he bought in 1973 still have plenty of wear left in them would be looked at askance when you can buy a new pair of strides for a fiver. They’ll be crap obviously but that no longer seems to be the point. The driver battling to keep a Ford Sierra on the road in 2014 would be thought of as mad. Thinking about it, he probably was mad when he bought it. After all, a new car is announced by car makers almost on a daily basis. The mantra now is ‘change is good for you’; whether you need it or not.
Once there was just The Motor Show at Earl’s Court where serious looking men with pipes and leather patches on the elbows of their jackets would discuss cars in a serious manner. A Royal would come and point at stuff. There may have been motor shows elsewhere in the world but they were of no consequence to our stoic British buyers. Now, thanks to the miracles of technology, manufacturers flaunt their wares at shows around the world. A day cannot pass without some new development or other whether it is needed or not.
In the 21st Century, at least in terms of manufacture, when companies see a bandwagon they feel obliged to jump on it. Witness the crossover craze. Thus the car has ceased to be about motoring joy alone and become a lifestyle accessory to be changed as often as individuals change their smartphones. Unlike a Ford Model-T you can have these in any colour combination that takes your fancy however bizarre. The car as trinket. The car as personal ornament.
To have a choice is fine, to have too much choice is dangerous. What is going to happen when these ‘customised’ motors come onto the used car market? What is a delicious beef lasagne to one person is just a old nag pie to another. Mark these words – if a car is too heavily personalised it will lose value faster than Piers Morgan’s pants. In the same way that magnolia paint is supposed to give maximum appeal to the majority of house buyers precisely because it is so neutral, so a silver car will always have the most mass appeal when it comes to resale time.
Manufacturers do these things because they can and consumers of the world are falling for it left, right and centre. For true petrol heads the ideal car has rear-wheel drive, a V8 engine and the desirability and curves of Scarlett Johansson – insert popular celebrity of choice – but with lower running costs obviously. All the hype; all the connectivity and technology from climate control to outside control to no control: When driving, nobody really needs to be connected to the world. They just need to be connected to the road. Geoff Maxted