26 Apr 2013

Because they can - Why car manufacturers give us too much choice

Geoff Maxted believes car manufacturers are giving us too much of everything, and we don't need it

Once, in far-off days, people were satisfied with what they had when it came to material things. They expected things to last. They purchased a car and kept it pretty much until it had reverted to its original organic state. The thought never occurred to those thrifty folk of yore to even consider buying one of those bright baubles of the automotive future. 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.

These days however there is simply too much stuff. The temptations are too great. Man cannot live by 3G alone, apparently. A fellow who insists that the pair of Noddy Holder flares he bought in 1973 still have plenty of wear left in them would be looked at askance. The driver battling to keep a Triumph Dolomite on the road in the 21st Century would be thought mad. 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 want 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. 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. Speedmonkey pointed out recently that the cars on show at Shanghai were, in some cases, beautiful, but mostly they were mad, crazy or daft. There’s a reason for this.

In terms of manufacture, when companies see a bandwagon these days they feel obliged to jump on it. Thus the car has become a lifestyle accessory to be changed as often as individuals change their smart phones. Take the Citroen DS3 or the Vauxhall Adam. Unlike a Ford Model-T you can have these in any colour combination that takes your fancy. 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 cars come onto the used car market? What is a delicious beef lasagne to one person is just an old nag to another. Mark these words - if a car is too heavily personalised it will lose value not gain it. 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. The ideal car for this humble scribe has rear-wheel drive, a V8 engine and the desirability of Uma Thurman (but with lower running costs obviously). When I’m driving I really don’t need to be connected to the world. I just need to be connected to the road.

Geoff Maxted is a freelance writer and photographer whose works have been published in various print and online sources