I have been looking at new cars for a year or so. I started thinking about getting a new car a few years ago, when I realized I was getting to the age where owning a sports car might be a now or never proposition. To enjoy a sports car means driving fast in places where you’re not supposed to drive fast. That means having the reflexes and risk tolerance to take chances. There really is nothing sadder than seeing an old woman driving a Porsche or some old guy putt-putting down the road in a Corvette.
I have yet to pull the trigger on the car buy. The main reason is I hate the hassle of buying a car. The way cars are sold in America has never worked for me. I don’t want to develop a rapport with the car salesman. I don’t want him (her) to help me develop a relationship with the car that will tell the world about me. I’m not interested in having a self-actualizing experience with a car. I guess I’m a weirdo, but I don’t think the way I live my life needs to make a statement. I just want to enjoy the time I have.
There’s also the fact that I can’t seem to make up my mind. I’m not a car guy, in that I don’t get into the car culture. A part of owning a sports car is being a part of the social life around owning it. I think a car is, for the most part, a necessary item of life. I want my car to start in the morning, warm up quickly and have a cold air conditioner. I never listen to the radio, but Bluetooth is a nice feature so I can listen to my favorite hate-thinkers on road trips. Otherwise, a car is like the toilet. I only notice it when it does not work.
Still, I feel like I should buy a sports car before I’m too geezerly to enjoy it. I’ve looked at a number of them over the last year. The last sports car I owned was 30 years ago and it was used when I got it. It was fast and fun to drive, but compared to what is on offer today, well, there is no comparison. Modern technology has made affordable sports cars that are vastly better than the most enthusiastic drivers. A modern sports car is not a machine you control. It is a technology platform and the driver is just one part of it.
Something that I did not expect when getting into this is the class issue. I grew up country poor, but I’m not country poor now. I’ve been all over the world and I have been around very worldly people. I retain my working class sensibilities, but I’m not going to lie and say I prefer the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. Whether I like it or not, the car I buy will say something about me. Am I a man who prefers an Audi or a guy who thinks a Camaro ZL1 is the right choice? I never had a reason to think about it until now.
Having driven a number of different cars over the last year, I’ve come to believe that the professional auto journalists are just public relations flacks for the car industry. For instance, I drove a Mustang and a Camaro on the same day. I was in the muscle car mood and they are the two premier options in the category. I read the reviews of them on the popular car sites. I was expecting one model to be refined and the other more brutish, as that is what all of the reviews indicated. Both cars felt pretty much the same.
That’s probably the biggest obstacle to me pulling the trigger. There’s a weird sameness to all of the new cars. A few weeks after the muscle car testing, I did a day of driving European sports sedans. The sameness of the cars, at least in terms of driving them, is the one memory. I found I had to keep a list of the small differences between, say, an Audi and a BMW, as they were otherwise indistinguishable. There’s no quirkiness or originality to set one off from the other. It’s like the car makers are all aiming for the same goal.
This sameness is due to the fact the car makers are global companies now. Instead of the British car makers building cars mostly for Brits and the German makers building cars for Germans, car companies are rootless cosmopolitans, making cars for the world. That means they think they need to avoid the quirky, local flavor, as much as possible. It used to be that America cars were utilitarian and made for the open road. European cars were sophisticated and built for tight corners. Now, they all do the same things and look alike.
This sameness extends to how they sell cars. The last time someone tried to re-think the retail sale of cars was when Saturn was rolled out. Their pitch was the “no-haggle” price and a limited set of options. It never really worked as people have been conditioned to haggle over the price of a car. That and they rolled out the no-frills option idea just when technology was allowing everyone to have a bespoke experience buying everything. The “customized experience” is a great sales tool as everyone wants to feel special.
Look at the car dealers today and they all do exactly the same things. Even their website are cookie cutter. Other than some aesthetics, it appear that maybe one or two website companies have built every dealer’s website. That’s not unrealistic. There is one main software maker for car dealership software. I no longer recall the name of it, but one software package was used by something like 90% of all new car dealers. It’s not unrealistic to think that they or someone else is doing the same thing with the websites.
Despite the uniformity, the other thing that strikes me about the dealership websites is their uselessness as sales tools. I’ve noticed that the cars on the site, often don’t exist on the lot. At the same time, the cars on the lot are often not listed on the site. Dealers are famous for the bait and switch tactic, but this just looks like sloth. Spending time in the dealerships, the vibe I get is that the business remains hostile to technology. They just want to sell cars to the people who walk into the showroom. That’s it.
As far as the car purchase, I’m still weighing my options. I’m down to one of the muscle cars or one of the German sports sedans. I’ve always liked the look of an Audi, but I fear the repair costs. BMW’s are known for sturdiness, but I’m told that is not longer true, so maybe a Mercedes. Having driven enough of them, I’m sure I would enjoy owning any one of them. But, I still cannot get over the thrill of driving that Camaro ZL1. It was like being strapped to a rocket sled. I could get used to that in a hurry.