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300 posts in and all about the love
Maybe I've neglected my little corner of the internet for far too long. Maybe I spend too much time online as it is. Maybe I'm over-thinking things again.
Thinking (over, under, or otherwise) is what today's rant is all about, however - and, Valentine's Day or no, I want to spend some time thinking about the state of the automotive industry.
In my mind, there are really two kinds of relevant car-buyers: the first kind of car buyer purchases brand-new vehicles from dealer lots that they think they need (type 1), while the second kind of car buyer purchases brand-new vehicles from dealer lots that they think they want (type 2).
People who do not buy new cars are irrelevant to this discussion (but we'll get to them).
Type 1 car buyers tend to be practical shoppers. They "need" a new car, remember? As such, type 1 buyers are not buying a particular car or brand. Rather, they are buying some feature or benefit which "that" car provides - be it an extra row of seats, a predictable monthly bill, some new safety feature, or (in some cases) social acceptance. No matter how you slice it, though, the decision to buy "x" model car has been justified to the nth degree. Even if all the justifications are total baloney, the type 1 buyer has convinced him/herself that they're buying something they need.
In other words, type 1 car buyers buy cars that make sense (if only to them).
Type 2 car buyers tend not to be practical shoppers. They "want" a new car. As buyers motivated by their emotions, and each of them will buy a car that speaks to them as an individual. There are, then, as many motivators as there are type 2 car buyers, and each of them will find some aspect of some vehicle personally engaging enough to pull the trigger.
In short, type 2 car buyers buy cars that they like (and, perhaps only they like).
What does this classification of new-car buyers have to do with the state of the automotive industry?
In recent years, there has been a sort of feature-creep in mainstream automobiles. Not that long ago ago, 235 hp was the domain of fearsome rear-drive Mustang Cobras that no responsible adult would buy their teenager. Today, my Volkswagen minivan makes more, and has a top speed well over 100 mph.
Power is just one of the many features found in today's cars that were absent in years past, however. In order to help drivers control that newfound power, automakers turned to "cheats" like advanced engine-control software, anti-lock brakes, traction controls, and semi-automatic transmissions - and each of these new features has served to separate the (unqualified) drivers from their (overqualified) machines. All of which is a long lead-in to the following observation: driver involvement is the single most critical issue facing the automotive industry today.
Appropriately (given the date of this post) driver involvement is an issue that is all about the buyer's love for their car, and it is that love which will author the fate of the automotive industry. The Type 1 buyer will love cars that speak to their needs. The type 2 buyer will love cars that speak to their wants.
So, will there be enough love out there to make a solid business case for engaging, involving automobiles?
I don't know.
To be honest, I'm not even sure what makes an automobile engaging anymore, now that you can buy family sedans that can run low 13's all day long with yawn-inducing efficiency. I'm pretty sure that Porsche's ire-inducing nav system counts as "involving", but I don't want any of that.
Automotive love is pretty hard to define, in any sort of practical "build this" sort of way. I don't know what makes some people love Volkswagens and other people love Lancias. I do know this, however: I actually bitch out loud to no one in particular when the red light I'm idling/texting at turns green before I'm done.
I don't think I'm alone.
In fact, given a choice between commuting by car or by train, I would like to be teleported to my destination. I will save my automotive lust for more vintage iron, and - because that means I will NOT a new car anytime soon - become irrelevant to the actual business of running a car company.
So, don't bother marketing to me, GM, Toyota, or Honda. It's been great, and I wish you all the best, but the Lancia Beta is the girl for me.
SEVENTEEN KINDS OF GORGEOUS
Maybe we can still be friends?
Either way, best of luck to you big-volume car-makers, I fear you're going to need it.
Happy Valentine's Day!