GM gets ribbed a lot (and rightly so) for being “government motors” … having accepted (no, demanded) enormous sums of taxpayer money in order to avoid bankruptcy. The bailouts were the corporate equivalent of EBT (which conservatives somewhat oddly or at least, inconsistently, dislike . . . their ire apparently reserved for needy and greedy humans rather than needy and greedy corporations).
Anyhow, the plain fact is they’re all government motors now.
Every car company is a subsidiary of Uncle.
Either they are on the dole, or they are on the payroll. Does it really matter (to us, the people who pay the freight) which? The bottom line is they have their hands in our pockets. Or rather, they have appealed – successfully – to Uncle, who has his hands in our pockets. And, of course, a gun to our heads – implied, at least.
Actual, when necessary.
What’s happened is that the car companies decided about 20 years ago to work with the government rather than for their customers – on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Instead of fighting mandates tooth and nail – government bureaucrats decreeing the features and equipment your next new car will have (and which you will pay for) – the car companies came to the realization it was less hassle (and more profitable) to embrace the mandates. Even to the extent of anticipating the next one.
To assist the government in thinking up new things to charge people for.
For “safety,” of course.
And de facto, this is already the case.
It is hard to find a 2015 model car or truck that doesn’t have a back-up camera as part of its suit of standard equipment. Often, it is “bundled” with features you might actually find useful or desirable – like an upgraded audio system or GPS.
Rather than wait for the mandate to kick in, the car companies went all-in early.
Not because buyers were clamoring for the cameras. But because the cameras add $$$ to their bottom line – and not just to the purchase price of a new car, but also to the cost of repairing the car. It’s inevitable that, at some point, either the camera itself (which is located outside the vehicle, usually built into the bumper or trunk/decklid and so exposed to the elements) will crap out. Or the LCD display inside the car (typically either built into the center stack or the rearview mirror) will develop a fritz. And because these cameras will be part of the federally mandated suit of “safety” equipment, it is a legal requirement that the system be maintained in operational condition on your dime. Else the car fails the mandatory (in many states) “safety” checks one must submit to every year in order to renew the registration.
In the past, the car companies would have fought this force-feeding on the theory (now severely anachronistic in Mussolini-ized America) that customers weren’t clamoring for it.. Or at least, let’s offer it and see whether they’re freely willing to buy it. If they are – great. Sell it to ’em. But if not, drop it.
That was the approach taken with air bags – initially.
But when people did not buy them willingly, the government decided this was unacceptable – and ordered them to buy.
This occurred in the ’90s and marked a turning point, a sea-change attitude shift. The car companies realized (perhaps accepted is the better word) that, like it or not, government had become their “demographic” – the car industry term for the object of their efforts, the audience they build cars for.
The reason today’s cars are so bleakly homogenous is a function of this. They are all designed to fit within a certain template – the big one being “crashworthiness” requirements but there are other templates, too. These templates are dictated by the government but nowadays, they are full-hug embraced by the car companies, too. For example, their engineers and “product planners” work directly with government bureaucrats to develop, implement and anticipate crash test requirements. This effectively dictates vehicle design – including the overall shape – of new cars generally. Irrespective of brand. Because everyone’s got to comply with the same standards. There is no possibility – legally – of a “rogue” car company going its own way and designing something along the lines of a 1959 Cadillac (or a ’69 VW Bug) because such a car would not fit the template.
This trend toward ever-increasing homogeneity will continue because the standardization that is an element of corporatization – saluta il Duce! – requires it.
All electrical outlets look pretty much the same for a reason.
The same forces are driving the adoption (the force-feeding) of small, heavily turbocharged engines in lieu of the simpler (read: less expensive/lower profit margin) larger, not-turbocharged engines that most cars used to be powered by. The reason for this is not market demand.
It is government edict.
Specifically, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) edict.
Next year (2016) all new vehicles – this includes trucks, incidentally – will be required to average at least 35.5 MPG on the government’s test loop. Those that average less will cost you more – in the form of gas guzzler taxes. But also in the form of more complex/expensive engines (i.e., those with turbos, “auto-stop” and so on). This is why the new Ford F-150 pickup comes with tiny – but turbo’d – V6 engines now.
Rather than fight the federales‘ fuel economy fatwas, the car companies have bought in. Or rather, you have.
Take a look at any new car, regardless of who makes it. Then look at other cars. The meaningful differences are increasingly superficial. Whether we are talking aesthetics or mechanics or electrics. Different drummer designs like the ’59 Caddy or the original VW Beetle with its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine and simple (inexpensive) overall design are nonexistent today, new car-wise. The marketplace – if it can be called that – is a kind of four-wheeled analog of suburban cookie cutter sameness. Those developments in which there are maybe four or five models of home, with the differences limited to the color of the siding and the orientation of the home on its plot of land.
The one upside is that power (and performance) levels have never been higher than they are right now. Cars like the 707 hp Dodge Charger Hellcat I recently got to test drive (and the soon-to-be here 750 hp Cadillac CTS-V I hope they’re going to let me test drive) would have been technically impossible, probably, back in the proverbial day. That kind of power was ungovernable – and could never be warranted. But because of all the other stuff these cars come encrusted with, they are economically impossible for most of us to even consider buying. The Hellcat is relatively affordable vs. the CTS-V, but the minimum price of admission is nearly $60k.
If only they could sell one without the air bags, the back-up cameras and all the rest of it.
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