The Novelty Factor

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When people get bored, they want something new. People are bored with new cars. This is understandable as they’re increasingly fundamentally the same.

Not in terms of color or size but functionally. There’s just not that much difference anymore.

The things that used to differ a great deal between makes and models and which separated and defined them beyond the badge and price no longer do. Like ride and handling, for instance. There used to be a great deal of difference between say a Cadillac and a BMW or Mercedes.

There isn’t anymore.

Cadillacs – when they were still American luxury cars and not trying to be American-badged European luxury-sport cars –  rode like sofas and were kitted out like living rooms, both desirable attributes if you don’t care about Nurburgring lap times but do care about comfort.

Today’s cars all ride and handle along the same luxury-sport spectrum, varying only slightly unless you’re really moving – and almost no one does that anymore for reasons of being beaten down and being afraid of a beat down. Creeping from one light to the next is pretty much the same in any air-conditioned, automatic-transmissioned whatever it happens to be.

Might well check email (which is why many new cars have WiFi).

Brand-specific engines used to be another point o departure.

A Ford small-block V8 sounded distinctly different from a big-cube Pontiac; each delivered its power differently, too. On was a low-end master of tire-melting torque; the other a high-RPM soprano.

Each appealed to different passions – and those passions justified buying one rather than the other, depending on which appealed to you more.

How many new cars today – regardless of make or model – are powered by a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine? Probably a third or more of the vehicles on the market. They’re not exactly the same engines. But they’re close enough that it makes little difference which brand you end up with. Can you tll the difference between an Audi 2.0 liter turbo and a BMW 2.0 turbo four and a Mercedes 2.0 liter turbo four?

It’s akin to the difference between a Makita and a DeWalt drill.

Which, I think, explains the interest in electric cars, even to the extent of overlooking their many deficits . . .  for the moment.

They are even more the same, of course – one electric motor being pretty much the same as any other electric motor. But they are also fundamentally different than the cars people are used to and have become bored with.

EVs are a novelty.

Most people have not actually driven an electric car. Many have yet to see one in person.

And this newness – this tinge of the exotic – excites them, in the same way that the prospect of traveling to a new place or meeting a provocative new person might – as opposed to something they’ve not only gotten used to but have become bored with.

And people are very bored with cars.

With justification.

After more than 100 years of refinement, their major flaws had been largely eliminated by the  1990s – thirty years ago.

No more hard starting or stalling. No quirks.

But in the process, they became uninteresting; increasingly lacking in distinctiveness or personality – which was sometimes a function of recalcitrance or even poor design.

Before the ‘0s, it was often necessary to know a “trick” to get the thing to start; sometimes a kick would do the trick. Certain brands had a habit of overheating. Or their electrical systems did odd and intermittent things.

And didn’t do the things they were supposed to.

Having a rear-engined (and air-cooled car) or a three-on-the-tree was something not run-of-the-mill.

When cars still had carburetors, some emitted a very distinctive moan as the secondaries opened up. An engine fed by a Holley sounded different than one fed by a Quadrajet  . . . or a pair of Carter AFBs.

There was a procedure for setting the choke. People took pride in knowing how and explaining the procedure when called upon.

Today, there’s a plastic cover over a bunch of wires and plugged-in harnesses and other impenetrables.

Not even worth raising the hood.

You could tinker with cars once upon a time, too – and in this way make them your own. It’s still possible to make changes today, but in a much more homogenized way. Everything has to be matched and coordinated to work with the computer and set up for that specific car, its year and package of equipment as it came from the factory. You can’t just drop an engine from say a Hellcat into your factory V6 Charger… not without dropping in everything else, at any rate. It’s easier – and definitely cheaper – to just buy the prepackaged Hellcat.

Very few new cars even offer a manual transmission anymore – and electronics increasingly “assist” with everything.

Electric cars are intriguing to people because they are something new and that is exciting and analogous to what the first IC cars were in relation to the horse and buggy at the turn of the 19th century.

People were tired of the horse and buggy.

As they are bored with the cars of today.

The irony, of course, is that today’s cars are boring because of the homogenizing pressure brought to bear by the government and Safety Cult – which are the entities hard-selling the EV as the replacement for today’s cars.

There is no question that emissions and fuel efficiency regulations have made today’s cars more reliable – as a side-effect of reducing emissions and increasing fuel economy.

But the regs have also made them generic appliances and sucked the life out of them – made them so perfect that they have become uninteresting – like one after another plastic display window fembots –  something attested to by the piling on of every electronic gadget conceivable, as a way to gin up some momentary interest in them, which fades almost as soon as the apps need their first update.

Of course, the electric car is the ultimate gadget – and it is fascinating to most people precisely because they have no real experience of one, yet. They hear all about Ludicrous Speed and silent running and their curiosity is piqued.

The reality – which they’ll come to know soon enough – will be disappointing and not just because of the choking expense and stifling limitations imposed by their limited range and the time (and planning around) involved in recharging them.

EVs are even more homogenous than today’s non-electric cars. There is practically nothing to distinguish one from another except the size of the electric motor, the range of the battery pack – and the size of the touchscreen inside.

People will have even less interest in driving – or even buying – an EV  because they’ll get bored even faster as there’s almost nothing to do behind the wheel of an EV except turn the wheel and push on the “gas.”

When the novelty wears off, they’ll just want to take a nap instead.

And can you blame them?

. . .

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Even as a “millennial”, I remember a time (the 90’s) when auto manufacturers had two or sometimes even three engine choices per model. Now, that same number of engine options are being used across the entire lineup. This is not only due to “Uncle”, but also simply because it’s cheaper. And now thanks to all the newly formed conglomerates buying up damn near every independent manufacturer over the past couple of decades or so, those same engines are now even being used across different brands within that conglomerate.

    If people are bored now, just wait until automated driving becomes the norm. People might even become bored of their mobility.

    • I think that’s the end game. It’s terrible. In a way, you’re lucky to have been around a shorter time, for you have not seen what this country was compared with today. The 1970’s was the last decade where current trends were not readily apparent.

  2. By the way, love the still from the Six Million* Dollar Man! My favorite show when I was a kid. A few years ago I picked up the boxed set of the series. It’s pretty amazing to watch because of Steve Austin’s reaction to the OSI mutilating his body and outright hostility toward Oscar Goldman. Nothing at all like the government blowjob stuff we get today. And they wonder why people are cord cutting.

    *28.6 Million in today’s currency.

      • I don’t even know what yall are speaking of. I guess when those things were going on I was working. I will confess I never had a tv in a truck nor any other vehicle, barely had one at home(black and white) and the wife had shit to do and didn’t watch it and I wasn’t there to watch it. I do remember a friend’s wife bought him a 12V tv for his truck and 20 of us gathered round(it was not large)to watch Will And Sonny do some impossible things and laughed our asses off. Just a reflection of age.

        I do recall watching the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine one week-end. A friend and the wife and I watched it and were entertained. We thought the colors were great and had a good time. It was only later we realized we had a B&W tv and the colors might possibly have been due to the righteous peyote we had.

        I never fell into that “flashback” bs . I wasn’t far behind Timothy Leary and I never had a flashback. When you’re up 96 hours trucking your ass off and you don’t have “flashbacks”, I have to call bullshit on it. If you had a flashback, you weren’t working hard enough.

        There’s that little child from Sweden saying people shouldn’t have kids, that we’re all killing the planet. Don’t know how she exempts herself. I’d say her parents took up birth control a year too late.

  3. Transportation appliances. Like a refrigerator, most people just want it to work without having to put much thought into it. How many people remember to periodically clean the coils on the back? Doesn’t matter, still keeps stuff cold. Right up until it doesn’t.

    • Refrigeration technology hasn’t changed in 50 years. Keep the coils clean and change the water filter. We have an 18 yr old Kenmore still humming along and an old one in the garage that came with the house.

      • Well BB refrig tech has changed. When we bought our new frig and freezer, we were told they would need replacement in 7 years. Made in China, at a cost to buy that was 4 times as high as the 25 year old Aussie made appliances that finally died. And they call this “sustainability”.

    • Jeff, that was a good pic wasn’t it? I have been good at adjusting valves on Chevy’s for maximum performance since I was a teenage. A lot of people would come to me and have me do a valve adjustment….and that was only part of a good tune-up. Being able to get everything right on a distributor and timing is a huge increase when it’s not up to par.

      I used to set my Holley with a GM part number up to my liking and would wire the accelerator pump linkage to the throttle linkage, instant 4 barrels. And those HOlleys with a GM number were of a different sort, much better actually since the choke worked as well as a QJet, just floor it, let off and crank. It would be high idling, smooth and sweet. You couldn’t get anyone to go through one either. Guys with hot rod shops wouldn’t touch them and there wasn’t anything really any different besides the choke. You set the fuel float just like any other carbureutor, by the little thing that came in the kit. They might have had a few more pieces but it was all to the good since they were highly tuneable. It only took another 20 years for Edelbrock to build a copy of a Holley and a Qjet that was adjustable externally for air and fuel. I had a Holley Economaster and it was the worst carb I ever had. At least with the old Carter’s, they didn’t promise you great economy and great performance. You could adjust them for performance and not have economy or vice-versa.

      But the later ones made of plastic really sucked…..but they’d make plenty power.

      In the 60’s when I first went to college and lived in a dorm, I’d listen to the various brands trying to start in high plains cold. It was easy to hear GM’s. Crank briefly, start at high idle and that was it. Ford’s would crank and start and die, repeat, repeat repeat till it was warm enough to run with you sticking your tongue the right way and playing with the throttle. Then those air-cooled Mopars that cranks, briefly fired and died. That could go on for 5 minutes….or 15 if it was a Hemi.

      I was always ready to race and knew some guys with Hemi’s. I constantly tried to get a guy who lived on the same floor with me to race me but he wouldn’t. I can say I never raced a Hemi. They can say they never got it handed to them by a SBC. The guys with 440’s were always ready to race. I wonder why? Was it because you didn’t have to get a Mopar expert to tune one? They were hard Chargers…so to speak. Just too damned heavy.

      There were two cars in my entire county that dominated everything else, mine and a friend with a 427 he’d stuck in his 66 396. It was tricked out to the nth. Mine was a 327 tricked out differently but all the right parts, internal and external. The best cam I ever had wasn’t the Duntov solid lifter although it sounded mean as hell. The best one was a GM cam you couldn’t find in the books and had to know someone in the parts dept that knew what it was. It would rev high enough to sling the blades off the alternator. My hood had all these little dents that stuck up from alternator blades giving up. I’d give my left one for another Malibu Sport. It had a really nice interior and being as to how it was my car, a paint job that would knock your eyes out even though it was stock.

      I’m not big on chrome so my car had next to none. I was cleaning my engine one night working and this guy about 40 came over and said “There’s more chrome under the hood than on the whole car”. yep, just the way I liked it. It’s easier to keep an engine clean with chrome than paint in my experience. And chrome all around Chevrolet orange and polished aluminum is a nice look. Nobody could figure out how to get the best from a dual point distributor including me but I eventually figured it out. I’d set one set of points two thousandths off from the other set and dwell it to the same and same timing. I never looked back when HEI came along and you could get it set up in a custom tune for your engine. I still have brand new old school SBC parts including some headers with the temp reducing coating on the outside.

  4. My moment came way back when Audi first introduced the “slab-sided” fenders. Don’t recall the next car to do it but in a 2-3 year span they all had that look and a lot of the other looks of that Audi. Then they got tricky enough with their logos I didn’t know one from the other and didn’t car.

    I suppose cars made by the big 3 have looked alike quite a bit for as long as I’ve been alive but there were enough difference you could tell from some distance the brand. Even the 90’s cars were styled differently enough you could tell. But in the 2000’s, it became a game of following the popular style,the one everybody seemed to want one year and then it went on to every other make.

    Once the “catfish” front-ends and LED lights “framed” the other lights and then made patterns in the back, it was a done deal. I recall when an Impala was a bit different from an Altima but that didn’t last long. Then they stuck those blue/purple headlights with leds around them on big rigs and I was disgusted. Well, the big rig lights like that went away because they didn’t show enough contrast and nobody liked them plus meeting them was a drag getting blinded by the very light they sell glasses to stop.

    There are so many creases, esp. in the rear and whirly-gigs and what not in the front they’re just plain ugly. Imagine trying to do bodywork on a rear that had 20=30 angles and look like they’ve been rear-ended brand new. And they all have their distinctive exhaust sounds…..ssssssssss.

    Not a Veyron or Lambo is a bit different. Maybe I’ll buy one of each. And while everyone bitches about the new Vette’s, at least I can tell what they are, at least from the front and they don’t go sssssss..

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