Not Another One

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Sometimes, I feel like Higgins in the old Magnum, PI TV show.

Magnum – who was living in the guesthouse of an estate owned by the mysterious novelist Robin Masters, looked after by his major domo/alter ego Higgins – would engage in various affronts to good taste and sensibility, causing the always decorous Higgins to exclaim, Oh my god!

It is how I feel today, upon getting some backgrounder materials from Toyota about the pending 2022 CorollaCross. Which is – Oh my god – another crossover SUV.

Aren’t there enough of these already? Isn’t literally every car company making cars making them?

Many of them in lieu of making cars at all?

Of course, it is understandable why so many do make them. It is because they’re the currently popular thing, the automotive bell bottom cords of our time. Thankfully, people got sick of bell bottom cords – and today almost no one wears them.

But this crossover craze may never go away – because it is part of a depressing trend toward the Universal Transportation Module (UTM). The hard-pushing of electric cars dovetails with this. A homogenous shaped, various-sizes-fit-all conveyance of much practicality and no personality.

The non-electric UTMs are already in that NPC camp. They look alike, they drive alike. Almost all of them are powered by very similar little fours with turbos, driving the front or all wheels, together. That’s the main option you get. When they are all powered by the same electric motors, the only differences will be physical size, colors and the type of LCD touchscreen they have.

It makes one want to cock a pistol and point at one’s head – if you’re in the position of having to try to write something about it.

I get these increasingly spaced-out respites, as last week when I was able to spend a week rooster-tailing around in the V8 powered Jeep Wrangler 392. It is not another crossover and it does not have a tiny four with a turbo somewhere under its hood.

But how much longer? How much fewer in between?

At least the Corolla – sans the Cross – is a car. Which is enough – all by itself – to make it something different, for once. But that raises an interesting question, about an apparent paradox.

On the one hand, crossovers are in high demand – which explains why everyone is trying to sell them, rather than cars. But on the other hand, when everyone is trying to sell them – or rather, trying to sell the same thing – does it not also make it harder to sell the same thing?

In the Before Time – some will remember, though the memory fades with the passing of every new year, layered on the previous, such that only fossil do remember – there were all kinds of different cars and other kinds of vehicles, too – the type and layout usually closely identified with the brand.

Jeep, for example, did not make cars. If you wanted a car, you went to a Toyota store. And if you wanted a luxury car, you went to a Cadillac or a Lincoln or a Mercedes store. If you wanted a sports car, you might head toward a Porsche store or an MG store. For a luxury-sport car, there was BMW, which made (once upon a time) driver’s cars. For boxy, very sturdy cars, Volvo. Simple – and small – cars were the specialty of VW.

And so on.

Well, what happened to homogenize all of that into the UTM?

Government happened. Everything had to comply with the same things. The same regulations led to a sameness of form. Literally. The regulations all but require it. Without actually – explicitly – decreeing it. The end result is  . . . the same. The high doors. The raised and bulbous butts.

There is only one way to cheat the wind, too.

Cars have long been rendered mostly the same in terms of layout, too. Big cars, with big engines and rear-wheel-drive outlawed – without actually outlawing them. Via government regulations pertaining to miles-per-gallon allowable, which got rid of most of those and left the few remaining expensive and thus exclusive.

The remainder, smaller and almost all front-wheel-drive with small trunks and small engines – and small interest in them, for that reason.

People buy crossovers because the handful of cars left can’t do what they need them to do. You can’t fit much in the trunk. They only seat three other people (realistically) besides the driver and they mostly can’t pull anything.

So they end up needing a  . . . UTM.

It explains a lot.

It also helps one understand why “self-driving” technology – the Johnny Cab without the animatronic robot up front – is something many people seem to want. Because there’s not much to keep people interested or even awake.

But at some point, when everyone is selling the same thing – or trying to – it will become apparent that there is no longer much need for all of these different brands. How many ways can you sell cornflakes?

And then we’ll likely be down to a handful of brands – selling different color/different size UTMs, with “Johnny” in the dash and the passengers taking a snooze.

. . . 

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  1. The worst part is they all use either 0.5 liter/cylinder engines or smaller. Ugh! It’s only a matter of time ’till the state-owned auto manufacturers try to put a 50 CC single-cylinder engine with like 5 turbos in a 3/4 ton pickup truck! But hey, if it means getting that extra 0.000001 MPG prior to grenading itself 1/2 mile down the road…

  2. I think these “crossovers” are a lame attempt to bring back the station wagon, which would be the perfect vehicle for me right now. I really miss the early 70’s Plymouth wagons with the tailgate that would open down or swing sideways.

  3. Catching up on my EP Autos reading, have gotten behind—can’t do that! I loved Magnum back in the day—so good looking—and now I love my Tundra. Eric’s review sealed the deal. Nice to turn the ignition and have that big V8 rumble sound. So glad I didn’t get an SUV/Crossover type vehicle.
    All the SUV’s/Crossovers do look all alike, no matter their size or brand. I think they are the new vans. People want to look more ‘cool’ hauling their kids around in an SUV than a minivan, so the car makers cram as many seats in them as possible. I’m not seeing as many minivans around here either, except a few older people. Easy for them and their friends to get in and out of.
    Trucks seem to be looking pretty similar too, big, square and boxy except maybe Toyota and Ram. They do add a few curves on the front.
    I enjoyed your review of the Jeep. It would be nice if performance and style were the standards car makers were using to compete for our money instead of safety/CAFE/emissions. But of course like you and others have said, the car makers are government owned so until that (if ever) changes things will continue on the same course—slowly over the edge–unless your charge is gone–if that’s the correct term.

  4. Back in the day when they were phasing out the mostly framed cars for unibodies they always talked about how it would bring more choices in vehicle type. That of course never came to pass. In fact the opposite, far fewer choices.

    With the framed cars, we always seemed to have a two door coupe, sometimes with a convertible version, a four door sedan and a station wagon for most models. In the case of the Corvair a pickup and van as well.

    Now most models with unibodies are four door and a hatch. There actually isn’t another choice, outside of going with a framed pickup or big SUV. So we end up with the “market” of the 4 cylinder “crossover” for the low end and the V8 powered SUV or pickup for the fewer who can afford those (or go into debt for one) for the high end.

    • My 1979 Grand Prix two door was body on frame, engineered to be quiet! Body was isolated with nice fat rubberized doughnuts. Miss that car, quiet, comfortable easy to drive. Long trips were fun not exhausting.

      • Hi Sparkey,

        My ’76 Trans-Am is similarly laid out (front bolt-on subframe with the rubber biscuits). This layout does indeed do a great job of isolating the body (and so, the passengers) from the road. I’ve yet to drive a modern “luxury sport” sedan that is as plush-feeling as a big American dreadnought from the ’70s!

        Has your ’79 got a Pontiac 301? The 403 Olds? I can’t remember offhand whether the Pontiac 400 was still available for the GP that year. I don’t think it was. The last of them – pretty sure all of them the high-output (220 horse) versions went into the Trans-Am and a handful of Formulas, all of them four speed cars.

        I had a buddy up in Northern Va who owned a ’71 GP with the 455. That was a liner!

        • “Old Yeller” had the Pontiac 301, 4 barrel Rochester. Made a great roar wide open but wasn’t much on power. I believe the much maligned 301 was last or one of the last actual Pontiac V8s. Sure did idle smooth, even with several trips around the odometer. Most died an early death, probably by using the wrong weight oil. 10w40 back then was pegged with causing rings to stick. Motorhead coworker that was a Perdue engineering grad convinced me to only use 10w30 as noted by Pontiac.

          At 355k we finally bid goodbye to “Old Yeller”. My temporary used car while I looked for something better actually was with us for 21 years. A/C worked up to the last few months, a blown trans seal and rusting body finally was the end. PS: This Pontiac Gran Prix was on The Major Consumer magazine “don’t by list” in 1984. hah! Idiots.

  5. Good analogy, actually.

    You do remember what Ahnuld (as Quade) did to the Jonny Cab in the end? That’s what we need to do to this driverless steaming pile of crap, and the force-feeding of battery electrics down our throat, like we were some goose in Bordeaux.

    Trivia…the voice of Jonny Cab from Total Recall was Robert Picardo, the Emergency Medical Hologram from Star Trek: Voyager. Now how’s that for a stellar analogy for the current automotive situation? A telematic driver that becomes a computer program.

  6. “But at some point, when everyone is selling the same thing – or trying to – it will become apparent that there is no longer much need for all of these different brands.”

    Multiple brands of the same thing are necessary to create the illusion of choice, and therefore the illusion of freedom.

    • This explains the recent trend of buying out smaller, formerly independent brands (not just cars) and consolidating them into one large conglomerate.

  7. Now, I just saw a guy walking down the street wearing a full-on respirator, such as you’d use with painting.

    Outside, in the blazing Arizona sunlight (and soon heat).

    As an aside, UPS, Home Depot and their vendors are completely without accountability if they deliver your package to the wrong address.

    Wonderful fuckin’ morning.

  8. ‘It makes one want to cock a pistol and point at one’s head – if you’re in the position of having to try to write something about it.’ — EP

    … or set up a great honking trebuchet and try for a fully airborne quarter mile.

    When the inevitable cavils arise, coolly observe ‘Dude … it’s insured.’

    As my late friend Ronnie G used to observe, deep in his cups after sharing a six-pack with his german shepherd Brutus, ‘I just like to get drunk and drive fast and tear things up.

    Hey maestro, expresso
    It’s just another one just like the other one
    Hey maestro, expresso
    Is this another one just like the other one?

    — Dire Straits, Expresso Love

  9. Maybe slightly off topic…

    Some clover just rear-ended my girlfriend. She was driving my Ranger, and the back bumper got folded under. Looks like it’s still driveable, however, if there is any good news.

    If it were a crossover, it would’ve destroyed the “clip”, and cost a gajillion dollars to fix.

    Like you say, Eric. They’re everywhere!

  10. I wouldn’t buy one unless they could give them more ground clearance. I’m a hold out to older tech, my newest 4 wheeled vehicle is a 2001. ( well I’m not completely old tech , I have a couple much newer motorcycles)

  11. Chrysler….or Fiat….or whatever that company is called these days engages in laughable silliness with this “392” bullshit.

    Hankering back to what….1957…to an engine that has absolutely nothing in common with anything today…is simply stupid. Just because Don Garlits happened to destroy a few hundred 392 engines feeding them a liquid dynamite called nitro methane, is no reason to imply a relationship to that ancient stuff.

    Anyone think someone under 60 recalls these boat anchors?

    • Hi Alger,

      I disagree with you on this bidness. For one, it is a 392. There’s no misrepresentation there. And it is an OHV/pushrod V8, very much like the ’57 in terms of its fundamental layout. Yes, of course, it is encumbered with electronics. But – c’mon – this is a worthy effort (470 hp!) and especially in the context of the times.

    • I disagree with you too AlgerHyss. They are not bullshit or stupid to me. You’re entitled to your opinion though. I’m well under 50, so is my wife, and my kids are young 20’s. We own all V8’s, about 6-7 of them including farm beaters. Only my daughter has a V6, and she wants a V8. A large one too like the 6.4, etc…. haha…..
      To each his own I say. As long as they keep making them, I’m buying, and am willing to pay extra to own and run them. They make me car happy.
      I drive a lot of different cars/trucks. Not as many as Eric, but a lot. And if we switch brands/styles, we always test drive to be sure. A recent example is when MB went all 4cyl turbo for their E350’s, my wife said no (I give no opinion before hand, just go drive it first). I believe Eric just did an article on the new one and they are back offering a 6, I’m guessing cause they lost a decent amount of customers with the 4-cyl only idea.
      She then said, she wanted to go mid-size SUV. From her Suburban days to the MB E350, then back a little. I set up 4-5 cars for her to drive I thought she’d like. She picked the Grand Cherokee V8, hands down winner to her, no others came close, for her.

  12. my theory as to why thee are being pushed – more space in the bottom of the car to shove batteries into when we are forced to all go electric….

    • Ding!Ding!Ding! I do believe you’ve got it, Nasir! I see no other reason for the existence of these crossdressers. They’re no more functional than a sedan….but weigh more and have poorer aerodynamics- which would seem to be the very oppossite of stated goals and mandates of the government-corporate auto ‘industry’.

      Years ago here, you’d occasionally see someone take an old Ford Pinto (HAhaha) or other small car and swap it onto a small 4×4 truck chassis, and jack it up with a ludicrous lift and huge tires. …
      They were totally ridiculous, and had no practical purpose- they were good for nothing; not for the purpose for which they were designed..and certainly not for 4-wheeling- they were just toys to br gawked at. That is what these crossdressers remind me of.

  13. When GovCo crashes, an it surely will under the weight of its own contradictions a la the Soviet Union, it will end. This is kinda like the beer industry in the late 70’s early 80’s. Bud, Miller & Coors bought up every independent and shut them down. It looked like there were to be only 3 beers in the country. But, what happened was the emergence of micro breweries, some of which grew to national prominence. What we have now is a veritable cornucopia of beer selections.

    In that respect I say, bring on The Great Reset! Let’s lance this boil now and get it over with. Sure, it won’t be easy but, we might as well get it out of the way.

  14. And the state is rushing headlong into doing the same thing to people. Turning them all into state approved cookie cutter, critical thought free, gullible, morons.
    The only difference is the quality of build. It’s likely that will also disappear, since those with lesser quality can dispose of marketing the concept, and focus more on their quality. It’s pretty much all they have to sell.


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