At one point few vehicles epitomized the American family car as the station wagon, particularly of the fullsize variety. Today, most car companies are pretty much convinced that American consumers will not buy station wagons. A few of the European luxury brands offer them here, but for the most part wagons are not welcome in the contemporary automotive scene in the U.S. According to Pete Bigelow of AOL Autos, the fault for that lies with the vehicular star of 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation” — the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a hideous pastiche of just about every bad malaise era styling trend appliqued over a Ford LTD Country Squire.
I think it’s time to discuss something that we should’ve brought up a long time ago: the stupidest automotive feature.
Oh, sure, we’ve discussed the worst automotive feature, and the best automotive feature, and the automotive feature you wish you had, like spiked tires that could cut through ice and offending road users.
But what about the stupidest feature?
I ask this because I think there are a lot of unnecessary automotive features out there in today’s world; items that have no basis or bearing for real life use, or customer desire, brought to us by automakers who are hellbent on coming out with a vehicle that offers the highest possible level of gadgets and equipment so they can use the phrase “BEST IN CLASS” over and over in their ads.
Interestingly, however, I don’t believe the stupidest feature is one of these newfangled ideas that seems to exist for the sheer sake of existing. I believe the stupidest feature is actually an oldie. And it is: a retractable spoiler.
I recently had the opportunity to test drive an automobile, and I remembered why I hate it so much: because test drives are insanely short.
They’re not just a little short. They’re wildly, absurdly, ridiculously short. Some test drives last for eight minutes, even though you will likely own the vehicle you’re driving for several years, you will pay tens of thousands of dollars for it, and you will spend several hours in it every day of your life.
Obviously, we know why this is: dealers don’t want to waste time with test drives. They want these things to go by quickly, so the cars don’t accumulate very many miles, and then they want you to get back into the showroom and start arguing over the price. This is how they get ya. The more time you spend arguing over the price, the more you want the car. “I don’t really want this car,” you think to yourself. “But I’ve already devoted six hours to arguing about the price. So I’d better get it.” This is how Chevrolet sold so many Cobalts.
But is the car buying public really content with these test drives?
An unnamed product planner for an unnamed truck company candidly told me off the record once: “There is no ceiling for trucks right now. It’s incredible.”
He’s right. Ford’s announcement yesterday of a truck that’ll likely sniff $60,000 to start is a far cry from your grandfather’s Ram that he bought for three dairy cows and a handful of sawdust.
Automakers are busy re-jigging their product mix to better meet the crossover hunger of an ever-shifting buying public.
Chevrolet is adding a new crossover to their lineup — according to “sources” — that shrinks the Equinox and puts a new, three-row model between it and the Traverse. Mazda has a new cute ute in the forum of a jacked-up Mazda2. Same with Honda’s HR-V which, by all accounts, is a massive hit out of the gate. Toyota has their new subcompact utility on the way. And Buick — oh, Buick — has finally rectified the Encore’s asthma with a decent puffer.
However, there was news about a new Cadillac ATS Midnight Edition yesterday and we didn’t run it. That’s because nobody, or at least nearly nobody, cares about sedans.
I’m a big fan of goofy engine swaps, but I must admit that I get tired of seeing small-block Chevy engines in everything. Still, engine swapping is an American tradition that goes way back, and the rise of online discourse has led to a huge increase in the level of heretic-seeking, brand-loyal, anti-engine-swap sentiment in the last decade or so. Why, our very own Crabspirits may have to go into a witness-protection program after stuffing a Nissan VG30 V6 into his Toyota Cressida, and I’ve received some disapproval for putting a GM engine in a 1941 Plymouth (not a huge amount, because prewar Plymouth fanatics tend to be 115 years old and not so online-savvy). AMC guys wig out when they see an LS in a Javelin, BMW fanatics get all red-faced when they see an E30 with a Detroit V8, and so on with just about any cross-marque swap you can name.
How do you feel? (Read More…)
Another day, another recall. Or, at least, this seems to be the growing trend lately in the automotive industry.
Years ago, I remember recalls being a rarity. My mom owns a Ford Escape that she bought new in 2003, and I distinctly remember her thinking about getting something else because she was worried about all the recalls. It had, at the most, three. This is what used to pass for a high-recall vehicle.
With news that BMW’s M division might give up offering manual transmissions altogether along with the plethora of automatic-only performance options from other automakers on the market, the battle to keep the manual looks bleak.
Not only that, but automatics seem to just be the better choice for a number of other non-performance options as well.
I am completely at a loss to think of another sport that tests man and machine as much as motorsport. Maybe bobsledding? Nah, scratch that.
Automakers have a history of testing their latest and greatest at road courses, ovals and street circuits all over the world. Some of the best technological innovations have come directly from racing. But, is that still the case? Is racing still the test bed it used to be for what we see on our cars a decade from now? And does it still help automakers capture the hearts and minds of the car-buying public?
Today is the beginning of the Independence Day holiday in America, which is this beautiful historical moment where we all take a few days off work and light things on fire. It’s also an excellent time to examine precisely what makes a car American.
I want to do this because there are a lot of Americans out there who will only buy an American car, just like there are a lot of Japanese who will only buy a Japanese car, and a lot of Germans who will only buy a German car, and a lot of South Africans who will only buy cars with bulletproof windows. But in today’s globalized world, what exactly defines a car’s country of origin?
Some would say where the car is manufactured – and that’s reasonable. After all, if a car is built in America, and sold in America by an American car dealership to someone in America, this is a pretty damn American vehicle, correct? You can only get more American if you were to get on a plane and ask personal questions to the stranger sitting next to you, even though they’re obviously trying to read the newspaper.
But wait! There are millions of cars that fit this definition that aren’t made by “American” automakers! The Volkswagen Passat, for example, is built somewhere in the marry-your-cousin hills of East Tennessee by an American factory worker, then shipped to an American dealer by an American truck driver where it’s prepped by an American employee and sold to an American rental car company for use in the commission of an American felony, likely with an American gun.
So is the Passat an American car? (Read More…)