2008-11-19

The End of the Great American Love Affair?

You know which love affair I'm talking about, of course. No? The love affair with the automobile, the car, the horseless carriage, the... SUV. Ah-hem.

America has been obsessed with cars since their introduction at the beginning of the 20th century. There has always been a good market for domestic manufacturers, even when the rest of the world came to ignore their eventually bloated and shoddy offerings. Much like the brewing industry, car manufacturers in America suffered from mass consolidation. Storied brands were purchased by larger companies and turned into a trim level. The energy price shocks of the 1970s robbed the American car of it's final distinguishing feature - horsepower - and left it with nothing. During the 70s and 80s American consumers were forced to suffer in underpowered, poorly made, characterless boxes. Ruthless management styles at the top of the by now huge corporations brought us vehicles designed by committee to fall apart just shortly after they had been paid off.

The 90s, however, brought us the Ford Taurus and an increasing parade of cars that took cues from European design and manufacturing techniques from Japan (and sometimes whole engines and cars from Japan) and gave America reason to hope again. Of course, this hope manifested itself as the SUV phenomenon. American consumers have proven repeatedly that, given the chance to buy something bigger for only a little more, they will always opt to super-size. Car manufacturers, led by Ford, rode this phenomenon to it's logical extreme, and well past that, with monstrosities such as the Excursion and H2 tipping the scales at a mere 4 tons. Sedans and hatchbacks went the way of the passenger pigeon and triceratops. All this weight required massive amounts of power, and efficiency gains won by things like overhead camshafts, quad-valve combustion chambers, and electronic fuel injection were quickly put to work motivating these huge hunks of metal and plastic. As manufacturers in Japan looked toward the inevitable future, the US behemoths outdid each other with monuments to unsustainability, not even paying lip service to the idea that manufacturers are indeed capable of driving the market.

This is what we want to save? This is what my hard-won tax dollars will be used to keep afloat? I know there are many arguments to be made for keeping these companies alive, and I actually do think it's a good idea in the short term, at least - but something within me is deeply angry.

I feel that these companies have taken enough from the American people. They took the automobile and crushed the life out of it. Yes, they are poised to bring it back, and there are signs that the morbidity is broken. We may get muscle cars with Japanese efficiency and European handling. If this does indeed happen, it will be a breakthrough - but it's not going to erase three decades of terrible cars.

I'd like to see the executives of these companies punished somehow. Perhaps they should all be forced to drive a 1985 Reliant (three glorious speeds) for the rest of their lives. I'd also like to see a new American car - not just an exotic, an actual car. I'm certain it's possible. Other countries have small marques, why can't we?

It's time to reassess the terms of this relationship. American car companies: I'm not happy.

4 comments:

walter said...

its really good to see that you're writing again. this is really funny and sad both at once. well put, i recognize your style.

deprogram said...

It's really, really good to see that someone's reading it.

Keep commenting, I'll keep writing. Talking to myself is therapy - of a kind. A mentally disturbed kind. Unless, of course, you're wearing a bluetooth headset, in which case, of course, you're 'cool'.

walter said...

well, i didn't realize you were writing again until about 20 minutes ago! i recognize some of these from facebook -do your posts go there automatically? but i guess i just never made the connection.

its really scary. lots of men (only men, never women) wear bluetooth headsets here in deutschland. it makes them look like agents out of the matrix. do they want to look like agents out of the matrix? is mr smith their hero?

walter said...

as long as you keep on writing like that -and i can't see you changing your style anytime soon- i will.

i think you don't take writing seriously because it just comes to you too easily, but does that make it a bad thing? hell, you still love to read, right?

here's another interesting link. (the pictures description is the interesting part).