I read an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "The End of the Affair," written by P.J. O’Rourke, on why Americans have fallen out of love with the automobile.
O’Rourke brought up some excellent points about the horse once being the truest form of transportation, and when the automobile came along, it made it possible for everyone to have their own “horse,” albeit with four wheels, a backseat and a lot easier to ride. But, as O’Rourke points out, suburban sprawl relegated the automobile to a place of everyday, point-A-to-point-B necessity; a “motorized cup holder,” he calls it.
Being a self professed “car guy” and a product of the ‘60s, I have a take on why the American carmakers have succumbed to bankruptcy, bailout plans and government ownership. Granted, it’s easy to point the finger at several environmental and safety lobbyists, but that is simply an easy excuse. I for one certainly welcome safer, more reliable and fuel efficient vehicles.
I remember when the American automobile was a symbol of innovation and beauty. I remember looking forward to the lineup for the new model year along with my father, with whom I shared my love of autos with, knowing that whatever the manufacturers introduced would at least be aesthetically different from the prior year. I’m also old enough to remember the catchy Chevrolet commercials on the Dinah Shore television show, which Chevy sponsored. “See the USA in a Chevrolet,” portraying their new models in romantic settings across the country. The automobile was truly part of the American culture only to be copied by Japan in the post World War II years.
It seems ironic that today the roles have reversed.
Sure, there were times during the 1960s when the auto industry needed a lift. Fortunately for visionaries like John Delorean(father of the muscle car) and Lee Iacocca(father of the Mustang) our horse and buggy psyche was continually challenged and our good old American blood kept pumping. Years later Mr. Iacocca would save Chrysler with forward-thinking concepts like the K-Car and the Mini Van. Sadly nothing was learned. It was great engineers and artists on both sides of the pond that kept our romance with the car alive. From Pininfarina and Scaglietti to Dearborn’s finest, the automobile remained a work of art.
In more recent times I have struggled with the boring sameness in the design of vehicles made on our shores.
How far would a successful rock band’s career go if they made the same record again and again? There always has to be a fresh twist with some new influences to keep your audience interested. In JAM!....amp your team, rock your business, I talk about the importance of collaboration and how musicians use their ears to listen to both the music they are creating and the input they are getting from other band members. Like those who conceptualize cars, a rock band is a design team with everyone focused on the common goal of creating music that is meaningful, sometimes groundbreaking, but most importantly filled with emotion and “soul.” The final result are hits; hits that become classics. Unfortunately, Detroit carmakers have stopped making hits. They no longer inject emotion into their designs.
In short, they’ve lost their soul.
Along these lines, I don’t understand why cars have to be expensive to be aesthetically pleasing. Does it really cost that much more to put pencil to paper and design something that is easy on the eye; to create a design that jump starts a human emotion that is deep within our souls? Is it the old adage, you get what you pay for? Are there automotive designers that are hired at lower pay scales to simply design ugly cars? I understand that performance is a bi-product of technology and that does indeed come with a price. However, for the most part beauty in three dimensions is whatever the mind can conceive.
In conclusion, I acknowledge the fact that we are all suffering from decades of highly leveraged borrowing of cheap money. But when the economic climate changes for the better, I hope that what’s left of industrial America will have learned a great lesson. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to take my dad’s ’59 Eldorado out for a spin.
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And because it's my blog - here's my favorite 38 Special song - enjoy!