By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. As this country endures yet another extreme weather event, the gathering storm about to swallow the auto industry whole is gaining strength by the day. The commoditization of the automobile is leading this industry down a path of no return. And as the Connected, Autonomous, Ride-Sharing Imperative Zealots (see last week’s column –WG) begin to hold sway over the prevailing thought as espoused by the mainstream media in this country, it is clear that the automobile – and the industry associated with it – will be fundamentally changed.
The world has been on an automobile ride for more than 130 years. Specifically, here in America, the automobile and the industry surrounding it played a definitive role in the upward trajectory of this nation, becoming an essential part of this country’s industrial fabric. But then again, it was even more than that.
In the beginning, the automobile encapsulated the freedom of mobility and the hopes and dreams of a growing nation. It was about what was possible and what could be. It was about taking people places they‘d never imagined or experienced before. It played a role in this country’s development and expansion, it played a role in this country becoming a global industrial power, and it played an inexorable role in defining the Arsenal of Democracy.
And yet, it was even much more than that. The automobile became part of the fashion of this nation, creating a sense of rolling style that influenced every facet of American life and culture. It became such a essential part of the fabric of American life that it’s hard to imagine that we’re on the precipice of a monumental shift.
But that’s exactly where we are.
The generations that grew up with the power and passion surrounding the automobile have long since gone. And the last remaining auto-fueled generation is slowly but surely shuffling off of this mortal coil.
And the fundamental change that has emerged over time mirrors the fundamental change that has enveloped this nation. What once was a nation of individualists and dreamers fueled with the heady notions that anything was possible has been taken over by decidedly different notions and much more trivial attachments.
The dreams and self-propelled achievement that once fueled this nation are no longer applicable. Instead, a New Way that has been instilled over time has superseded them. Achievement has been replaced by entitlement. Winning has been marginalized in favor of participation. And individualism has been eclipsed by the notion of sharing. We’ve gone from being a nation of blue-sky dreamers to a loose gathering of lowest-common-denominator, self-absorbed “participants.”
Is it any wonder then that the automobile and everything associated with it is going to be finally and permanently altered too?
Even though, as I said last week, the idyllic notions of ride sharing and autonomous vehicles will be confined to the urban centers of this nation for many years to come, the societal drumbeats are going to get louder by the day. The notion of expressing one’s self through the automobile of his or her choice will be belittled and held up for ridicule. People who still enjoy their vehicles for whatever the reason will be labeled as social pariahs and chastised for being oh so tragically unhip.
You don’t think that will be the case? That somehow we’ll all get along and revel in our differences? Haven’t you noticed the doggerel that passes for “political discourse” these days, or that self-righteousness is this nation’s most virulent disease? Exactly.
So here we are, on the precipice of monumental change. It’s clear that the automobile and those who hold it in high regard are in for a decidedly different experience. For some that will be perfectly okay, and for some it will be anathema. I can assure everyone of one thing, however, and that is the people finding the middle ground in all of this will be in very short supply.
Will great cars still be imagined and created in the future? I have no doubt of that fact whatsoever. But there will be a clear demarcation going forward that will be jarring for some. On the one hand we will have the commoditization side of the auto industry churning out, for all intents and purposes, true appliances for the sharing masses, and all the ugliness that will entail. On the other hand, there will still be manufacturers creating memorable machines for those that value what that means and who choose to pay for the experience.
But there’s one aspect of the car thing that will take a deep hit and eventually come to a screeching halt due to this ongoing monumental shift, and that is the phenomenon of “cardolatry.” I define “cardolatry” as the almost slavish attachment of overinflated hype and value to whatever the next hottest automobile “thing” is, before it even hits the roads, as well as the frenzied and mindless acquisition of perceived objets d’art masquerading as “collector” automobiles. This phenomenon defines the high-end car market – both production and collector – perfectly, because it has been devoid of rhyme or reason for well over a decade now.
And ironically it will be as the feverish car auctioning taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona, unfolds in a few days, that the burgeoning collector car bubble and the pure essence of “cardolatry” will be on display for all to see.
And when it eventually collapses on to itself in a festering pile of its own greed, I will be the first not to miss it.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -WG