The Problem with Car Culture

20 October 2022

There is a theory that the state of car design is not only a means of precisely calibrating the health of its culture but mirrors the obsessions of the age.

In the 1930s, quality and reliability were paramount characteristics of motor cars, and coach-built cars imitated the grand hotels and country houses, comparing the interior of the James Young Rolls-Royce and The Connaught. In the sixties, it was the Mini Cooper in the seventies; Volvo defined the consumer’s taste for safety in the eighties.

Germany isn’t the only country building a national identity around its automotive industry. Americans, too, often base their identities on the vehicles they own. In the UK, driving a particular car brand reflects a person’s societal status.

The motor car changed many things. These included changes in industry and technology, and everyday life. Car manufacturing became one of the first industries to use the assembly line; cars gave people more personal freedom and access to jobs and services. It also contributed to the rise of leisure activities. And with leisure came new services. These included motels, hotels, amusement parks and other recreation, restaurants and fast food. The automobile also brought new laws and government requirements.

It also has brought specialist interests and opportunities, for example, collecting classic cars, which their owners appreciate as having aesthetic, recreational and historical value. Such demand generates investment potential and allows some cars to command extraordinarily high prices and become financial instruments in their own right.

And now to the present, our environmental concerns, we are encouraged to buy electric cars and use more sustainable materials for the tyres. Do remember how one thinks about their car and whether you consider it an extension of yourself.

While one person can’t bring an end to climate change on their own, a change in the way we think about our cars is probably the best place to start.