I won’t lie….just kidding. You know I will. But for the moment, humor me. I’ll admit, there are times when I miss my jeep. It’s been nearly 4 years since I became car free and really, it has worked out quite nice. No gas to buy, no traffic to deal with, no parking headaches. But still, now and then when I see an old jeep rumble by, it stirs up some feelings. Not enough to want to go out and buy another one mind you, that ain’t happening. But just an old feeling of nostalgia.
My generation grew up obsessed with vehicles. When we were teenagers, getting our driver’s licenses, wanting a first set of wheels was at the top of the list. Having a car meant many things, freedom, mobility, cruising around, parking with your girlfriend. A car was an essential part of life to us back then.
At the time, nobody gave a rodent’s posterior about gas mileage. Not when you are paying $0.20 a gallon. If you had a car, your friends would all chip in a buck, you could fill the tank, and cruise all weekend. Car ads were way different back then. It was all about horsepower and performance. Kids would argue over things like Hemi’s, turbo chargers, and 4 barrel carburetors. Then in the early 1970’s the first oil embargo hit, and everything changed. Gas got expensive, cars got slower and lighter, and the magic just seemed to go away. Vehicles which were designed like works of art got replaced with cookie cutter garbage. Gas mileage was all important. High performance engines were throttled down to control emissions. Catalytic converters replaced said turbo chargers. The gilded age of the automobile was pretty much over and has been for a long time.
Vehicles nowadays are all about the electronic features. Interfacing with our gadgets, built in maps, and overly complicated systems, but they all still run on the basic four stroke infernal combustion engine. And they all still need gas to run. But the times are a changin’, and changin’ fast.
Electric cars are growing in number and popularity. Tesla seems to be leading the pack with many of the mainstream manufacturers adding in a model or two of their own. Even Harley-Davidson, the stodgy old company steeped in tradition, has an electric motorcycle out there. (Have not seen an electric jeep yet.) The infrastructure is slowly moving into place for these new machines. Key West even has some charging stations to accommodate those in need of some electricity. Given how fast the electric car industry is growing, it’s no small coincidence that gas prices have dropped significantly. But lately, there appears to be even more changes coming to the auto industry. And when they happen, the entire said industry is going to be knocked flat on it’s ass, which ain’t a bad thing.
You may have heard a lot about driverless cars. Vehicles programmed to haul your fat, lazy ass to the store and back which do all the driving while you relax and watch the scenery. Driverless vehicles seem to be the coming thing. Google is working on the technology. Apple is rumored to be researching a vehicle of their own. When these things do come into being, and they will, it’s going to move our way of thinking about transportation into a completely different direction. And the current established auto industry is shitting their pants at the thought of it.
I have made my contempt for the auto industry well known here in the hallowed halls of the Fritter. The whole dealership system is one of greed, corruption, and subterfuge. Trying to purchase a vehicle from a dealership will age anyone ten years in a few short hours. The only thing worse than buying a vehicle from a dealership is working for one. And I have worked for some real pieces of shit in my time. Once I got in and saw how things were run behind the scenes, it pretty much convinced me that not owning a vehicle was way more better. If you want to see a reasonably accurate description of how the dealership functions, (minus the Hollywood ending), go watch the movie Suckers some time. It is spot on accurate on how these bastards operate. But the good news is, if trends continue, dealerships will be a distant bad memory in the years to come.
Tesla shook the dealership’s cage first. They operate on a direct buy approach. Rather than rely on dealerships, with their shady practices and poor customer relations, Tesla has set up stores in unlikely places like malls to sell direct to the public. As you may guess, this has pissed off the established dealerships. Tesla has had to fight many state laws which prohibit manufacturers of vehicles to sell direct, no doubt laws written and financed by dealerships, so as to protect their business model. But as Tesla gains in popularity, they are making headway and setting up more stores around the country.
However, getting back to the driverless car issue, if the technology makes it possible to have driverless cars become maintstream, not just dealers, but many other vehicle related businesses are about to become obsolete, at least according to this article in Gizmodo. If I read the article correctly, the whole concept of even owning a vehicle is going to be a non issue. As the author states, most of the time, our vehicles sit in the garage or parked somewhere. That’s a lot of money sitting there not being used. Now imagine being able to summon a driverless car at your convenience, which pulls up to your location, you get in, it takes you to where you want to go, and then leaves. You don’t have to worry about it, not be concerned with fuel, parking, nor insurance. No maintenance, no loans, no traffic tickets, and no dealing with an obnoxious taxi driver who doesn’t speak English. This appears to be the business model the industry is heading to. It will eliminate dealerships, mechanics, gas stations, reduce pollution, and best of all, get rid of all those damn car ads. Which is not a bad thing.
The established industry from the manufacturers to the dealerships to the parts suppliers and repair shops, is sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring what is coming. When the rumors started to fly about the Apple car concept, one high ranking CEO in the industry gave a stern lecture to Apple about the pitfalls of building said car. He reminded me of the boss who refuses to take advantage of newer ways of doing things because the old ways work fine and what the hell do these young whippersnappers know about building a car. They make phones. Cars are different and we know more better. Stick to what you know Apple. Let the grownups build and sell the cars.
Um, yeah, let’s see how that works out. If I were to put my faith into anyone who could build a more better vehicle, and come up with a more better business model, it would be Apple or Google. These companies don’t think outside the box, they empty the box, fill with it cat litter, sit it in the corner, and go innovate without the restrictions of current established industry rules. Think Different was the phrase Apple used to use. You can bet they still do. When the CEO made those remarks you could smell the fear in his voice. He knows the current auto industry is about to get it’s nuts kicked in, and as I said before, this is not a bad thing. Grab yourself a big ol’ bag of popcorn and have a seat, because this is going to be a lot of fun to watch over the next few decades as these bastards get their asses handed to them, probably delivered in the first Apple driverless car.
But don’t think for one minute the established auto industry will go down without a fight. They are very powerful with lots of money and influence. The smart manufacturers, the smart dealers, the ones intelligent enough to see beyond their narrow world view, will figger out a way to change and adapt to the new business model. Those who don’t will be long gone, and good riddance to them.
For us old geezers brought up in a car centric culture, the idea of giving up ownership of our beloved cars is going to be hard. The type and model vehicles we owned said a lot about our personality. Our vehicles were more than just cars, they were status symbols, something to brag on. They told the world how successful or not successful we were, which when you think about it, is pretty sad.
Selling my jeep was one of the more difficult decisions I made when I was downsizing but in the end I am glad I did it. For younger generations, particularly the kids who are not of driving age yet, the concept of driverless cars and not owning a vehicle will be a natural thing for them. I’m guessing in the not too distant future, few people will even have a drivers license nor the need for one. It will be a very different world from what we live in now. Houses won’t need garages anymore, although most people I know fill said garages up with so much shit their vehicles can’t even fit in them. Cities and states will have to find new ways to fine us because traffic tickets will be a thing of the past. But so will traffic deaths. No gas stations, no car insurance, and no more waiting at the DMV. It’s going to be a good thing.
I have not owned a vehicle since 2011. I am quite happy without one. There will probably be a point in my life in the not too distant future where I will have to own another vehicle, perhaps to travel across the country, or maybe for other needs, but when I do, it will be short lived, and the moment I can get rid of it, I will. I don’t know if I will be around when all these changes come about. By then I may be living in a grass shack on a beach in the South Pacific someplace and not giving a shit about anything except fishing, watching sunset, and annoying any wimmen who happen to walk by. But for now, keep an eye on this subject because it’s going to be fun to watch. Big changes are a comin’, like it or not.