Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where has vehicle individuality gone?

I took the lovely Jenny to work thismorning. It was a trip that required a 40 minute womble down Auckland's Southern Motorway, then a twenty minute zip back home.
As I was creeping over the bridge, I recognised that if the name badge was taken off the car in front of me... I wouldn't know what the hell it was. (It was,in fact, a Ford Falcon.) Without the blue oval it could easily have been a Holden, a Toyota, a Honda - any one of a dozen homogenous brands.

There are very few individualistic vehicles being made nowadays. Citroen, once so easily identified, are nothing more than just another car. Rover.. well, back in its heyday, there was nothing like a Rover. They buggered that up when BL took the brand over. Triumph - the same. Holden - there was a time when Holdens and Fords were chalk and cheese. Now, it's only the fans of the marques that can spot the difference. Now, Holdens look like Fords look like Toyotas look like Citroens look like FIATs look like Audis look like Mitsubishis..

Yes, the BMW grill sets it apart: and well done for that. But the BMW in profile is almost exactly that of a Toyota. Well, I think it's a Toyota. Might be a Hyundai, or a Skoda. The Rolls Royce grill sets it apart - but a Roller from the rear simply looks like a well-painted Chevrolet, or something big and clumsy.

The mini-cars show more individuality: there's no mistaking a Mini, the new FIAT 500 is distinct - but wait! They're updates od 50 year old designs.

I can't tell a Suzuki from a Kia, a Mitsubishi from a Toyota, a Honda from Barina.
Nissan have a quirky design, Chrysler are emphatically doing daring things (and it's sent them broke), and the marvellous Renault design is, well, marvellous.

Once upon a time the brand was the design was the brand. The vehicle you chose spoke volumes about you. The Vauxhall Victa the neighbours bought pinned them down as solid middle-class Brit-philes, the Rover 110 owned by the family down the road marked them out as upper- middle class; a doctor, or perhaps the vicar down at St John's. Mr Jones drove about in a Chevrolet Impala, and no one was surprised to see he slicked his hair back with Brylcreem, and owned a young menswear shop. The farmers bought either a new Holden or Ford every second year, and the factory workers bought the used Vauxhalls, Prefects, Vanguards, and Holden Specials.

Perhaps the choice today is more democratic: anyone can, and does, own a bland vanilla milkshake of a car. But how I yearn for more variety. More art, less design.

What are we saying with our car choices today? From what I can see, absolutely sweet FA.

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