Advertising can be described as the art of selling people that which they don’t really need by convincing them of its urgent necessity.
All-wheel-drive is an excellent for-instance.
Something like two-thirds of all new vehicles have it or offer it. Exclusively rear-drive or front-drive cars are very much in the minority – even though two-thirds of the buying public probably doesn’t need more than two wheels driving most or even all of the time.
Go back to 2000 or a few years prior and only a few cars had or offered all-wheel-drive. Mostly, these were made by specialty car companies such as Subaru and Audi, which were known for this specialty in the same way that Volvo was once known as the “safe” car company. Now all three are just car companies that sell different-colored and sized versions of pretty much the same things every other car company sells, since pretty much every car company now sells both AWD and “safety.”
This is the Catch 22 of doing – of selling – what everyone else is doing. And selling. The same problem elaborates as everyone sells crossovers – the Universal Transportation Appliance – differentiated by not much and soon to be differentiated by nothing at all, once electrified. A yellow or a white or a green box in small, medium or large.
Insert plug here.
Back to the over-selling of all-wheel-drive.
What is the use of AWD? Additional traction, obviously. But how many people need it? If you live in an area where it hardly or even never snows – LA, for instance – there is very little need for it.
Of course, it rains in most areas and – in theory – AWD increases traction when it does. But for the most part, only if you are hot-dogging it at speeds much higher than most people drive. Especially in the curves, where having AWD can indeed help a car get through those curves at much higher speeds with much greater stability.
How many drivers of AWD-equipped Universal Transportation Appliances do that? Hot-dog through curves posted 35 at 55? Do you see that, much?
But how often does it snow in LA?
This is precisely why specialty car brands like Subaru and Audi were once the specialty brands for people who did have to deal with lots of snow, regularly – or who regularly hot-dogged and thus needed the additional traction that AWD provided.
Most, however, don’t.
Yet many are sold.
Convinced – by advertising – that AWD is a must. For “safety.” Just as advertising has convinced most people that a new car isn’t “safe” unless it has a slew of “advanced driver assistance” systems, such as auto-correcting steering and intercessory braking, both of these “advanced” systems being entirely unnecessary if the driver pays attention to his driving and drives responsibly and competently.
How long, one muses, will it be before the toilet paper industry begins to advertise “advanced assistance technology” to prevent streaks and kling-ons? Perhaps a nano-bot weaved into each sheet, with video-VR capability to “assist” the process of wiping?
That might even be useful, or more so than many of the AWD systems over-sold to too many people, who don’t need it. Especially given the fact that many of these AWD-equipped models are designed – and shoed – in such a way as to negate most of the advantages of having AWD.
One way that happens is by not endowing the AWD-equipped vehicle with the ground clearance necessary to make AWD functionally useful in snow, for instance. Probably half of the vehicles equipped with AWD haven’t got enough daylight in between the surface of the road and the undersides of themselves to give their AWD system much of a fighting chance if the road hasn’t been plowed. The wheels – all four – will spin once they lose contact with the road, which will happen as soon as the car rides up on the snow.
And there you don’t go.
Compounding this problem are tires not meant for snow, which is what many AWD-equipped cars are fitted with from the factory, especially if they are optioned with what is usually styled the “sport” package. This will typically center on a set of larger diameter wheels fitted with tires that have . . . sporty characteristics. These usually have shorter/stiffer sidewalls and thus flex less, which is a way to increase high-speed cornering grip as well as sharpen up steering feel.
But it doesn’t help much when there’s eight inches of unplowed snow on the road – especially when your AWD-equipped car only has six inches of ground clearance. Or less than five, as in the case of the 2022 Benz S-Class I recently wrote about (here). Beautiful car, with AWD standard – and good luck if it snows much.
Ironically, the vehicles that need AWD the least – because they tend to have adequate ground clearance, standard – are the ones that sell AWD the hardest. These being the Universal Transportation Appliances.
The crossovers – as they are styled.
With the right tires plus the necessary ground clearance, these will get you through most snow better with just two wheels (the front wheels) driving than an AWD-equipped car without the clearance and shoed with the wrong tires (for snow).
But the advertising people don’t get paid if you don’t buy what you don’t need. They do get paid, if they can convince you to buy it – even if you end up getting stuck, regardless.
. . .
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