Bark's Bites: Crossovers Are the Gateway Drug For Self-Driving Cars

barks bites crossovers are the gateway drug for self driving cars

Automotive Twitter really is the worst Twitter, for many reasons. First of all, it’s not very “automotive.” With the exception of our dear friend, Bozi Tatarevic, who is a must-follow for his encyclopedic knowledge and Holmesian sleuthing skills, nearly every other autowriter on Twitter views the platform as an opportunity to share the wonkiest political views possible. When they aren’t doing that, they’re all sipping from the same “I am an expert on financial matters but I also dress like a flood victim” Kool-Aid, chanting the same mantra over and over.

Last week was particularly objectionable, what with the GM decision to mostly abandon passenger cars in favor of light and heavy trucks. “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. “Crossover bad! Car good!” they shriek, neglecting to share with you that nearly all of them are childless and nary a one of them has ever tried to fit a collapsing stroller, a diaper bag, and a breast pump into the trunk of a Miata. One particularly stupid individual compared the nation’s overwhelming preference for crossovers to its preference for superhero movies over art films. Sigh.

It takes roughly three functioning brain cells to understand that crossovers are a better fit for the majority of flyover country than small cars are. Of course, once you understand that the majority of the major digital automotive press in this country is based in New York, then it’s not hard to understand that they can’t see outside of their bubbles. You certainly don’t need something like a Chevy Traverse if you are a childless man with a domestic partner who lives in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup with no available parking. But when you live in suburban Indiana with your three kids, all of whom have multiple after school activities, well, crossovers make a little more sense. And since childless couples in NY don’t buy cars and soccer moms in Indiana do, well, it only makes sense that the General is gonna listen to Jennifer from Carmel.

I, however, tend to think that there is an even more sinister goal behind the switch from cars to crossovers. I think it’s to prepare people for the (possibly never) upcoming switch to self-driving cars. Allow me to elaborate.

For those of you who have never driven a crossover of any type (hard to believe that such people exist in 2018, but this is TTAC), let me briefly explain the driving experience that you’ll get behind the wheel of the average RAV4/Rogue/CR-V/Tucson/Sorento/Equinox/Escape:

It’s mindless.

There’s nothing about driving your average small to medium sized crossover that requires much engagement from the driver. Steering motions are soft and willowy. Acceleration is muted. Braking is firm but forgiving. Cornering is stable, safe, and prone to understeer. They’re largely well-engineered. Most of them have very solid reliability records.

They are simply tools used for a job, much like any other large instrument that one uses in daily life. For example, I used my stove to make scrambled eggs this morning. They were not artisanal. They were not haute cuisine. They were just eggs. My stove, which is roughly 11 years old and has no special features whatsoever, was more than adequate to the task. I gained no particular sense of pleasure from making the eggs, but they needed to be made, and so I used the tool at hand to make them. This is what driving a crossover is like. No expertise or significant driving skill is required to pilot one, nor can any particular driving-related joy be derived from one.

My own mother required that my first car be a stickshift, noting that driving a car equipped with an automatic transmission was simply “pointing, not driving.” Most crossovers don’t even point particularly well. There’s not much about driving a crossover that one would call, well, driving. One might determine that the word “operating” would be more appropriate.

Of course this is all intentional on the part of the automaker. Toyota could, no doubt, make a more interesting version of the RAV4. Honda could make a CR-V Si. They don’t. They have no interest in it. Ford does make an Edge ST (which is nearly offensively priced) but it’s more of a top trim package than a truly sporting vehicle (it doesn’t come with a stickshift and it’s far, far too heavy), which just allows Ford to push the transaction price of its stuck-in-the-middle SUV a little higher.

It used to be that automakers spent time, money, and effort into making their cars more engaging and fun to drive. They now do the opposite, focusing on numbing the steering, deadening the noise, and softening to springs. While not every car should be (or needs to be) tuned on the dreaded Nurburgring, mainstream crossovers seem to have been tuned on I-70.

So when it comes time to relinquish those last few vestiges of human-directed car operation, crossover drivers will assuredly be among the first adopters of the technology, if and when it becomes affordable and mainstream. They’ve already demonstrated a lack of interest in driving. If I could have my eggs made automatically by my oven, you can be damn sure that I’d do it. Crossover drivers, who have roughly the same amount of interest in driving that I do in egg-making, will feel the same way about giving up the wheel to the magic box behind the dashboard in favor of more time spent Instagramming their food.

Why do this? Automakers need to have justification for the vast amount of cash they are relentlessly shoveling into the self-driving fire. They need to give us the soma we need in order to have our driving rights taken from us. Crossovers are just what the government-regulated doctor ordered. Make us all forget that driving can be fun, so that when you tell us that we can’t do it anymore, we won’t mind so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tinfoil hat is getting a bit tight. Time to make a new one.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Dec 04, 2018

    People buy crossovers because they are the same price as a "car", but they are bigger....let us not over think this. Oh, and roads suck, so low profile tires and low chassis are NOT the hot setup.

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Dec 06, 2018

    Meh! At this point I've owned sedans, coupes, a BOF SUV, a crossover and a BOF minivan. I swear no particular allegiance to any specific type. I've waxed and waned regarding what my preference is, but far be it for me to dictate what others drive. My driving habits aren't conducive to determining a vehicle's dynamic characteristics and driving on freeways and surface streets is just as easy in any of the vehicles I've had. It helps that I aggressively seek to stay in the suburbs where parking is ample and space is, well spacious. Life is all about tradeoffs. Stay in your own lane.

  • MaintenanceCosts So someone really did build that car I drew while not paying attention in second grade. Too bad they screwed it up so badly.
  • MaintenanceCosts A bit after that experience, my family ended up owning an '88 Accord and an '87 Taurus--Detroit's big triumph--at the same time. The win for the Accord wasn't total; the Taurus's engine was better and it was quieter. But the difference in build quality and refinement can't be overstated.There were no rattles in the Accord, the materials are to this day some of the best in any car I've ever owned, every control operated with precision and just the right feel, and the ergonomics were perfect. By contrast, the Taurus was full of rattles from the day we got it, had hard plastic and slapdash fits all over the interior, had mouse-fur upholstery that showed wear by 60k miles, some parts of the control layout were nonsensical, and my car had a number of obvious assembly defects (including silver front bumper paint that all peeled off within five years). The cars' records in service also contrasted dramatically; the Taurus's lower purchase price (as a used car with similar mileage) was totally offset within a few years by higher repair costs.The thing that really puts an exclamation point on the contrast between the two cars is just how much better the Taurus was than its Fox-based predecessors.
  • Art Vandelay I am sure somewhere, somebody is saddened by this.
  • Dukeisduke It's becoming the norm for cats to be moved out of state for sale, and even out of the country. The thieves are looking for the easiest places to get rid of them, as laws tighten down in some places. Here in Texas, catalytic converter theft became a felony last September 1, so the stakes are going up.A couple months back, an off-duty Harris County (Houston) sheriff's deputy leaving a grocery store was murdered in the parking lot by a thief that was in the process of stealing the cat from his truck. As far as I know, they're still looking for the suspect, who would be charged with capital murder, and subject to the death penalty.
  • Dukeisduke Here's a real horror story: A friend of mine that's a commercial wallpaper installer owned an '09 Tundra, and had his cat stolen while he was working on a job in Dallas. He would normally have driven his work truck (an '03 Silverado with a zillion miles on it, and one engine replacement), but it was out of commission that day.At the end of the day when he got in the truck and started it, he noticed the noise, *and* saw smoke and flames. The thief had somehow cut or nicked the fuel line, causing gas to spray out. The truck burned to the ground in just a few minutes.He replaced it with a '19 Tundra, and the dealer installed a steel plate attached to the frame rails below the cats, and it's riveted (or maybe security bolts?) to the rails (I only saw it after dark, so I didn't get a really good look). He said the plate cost $750 to install. He says he'll never take the new one to work.