"I Like Cars" - In Praise of Passenger Cars - Car Love From Maureen McDonald
I like cars
In praise of passenger cars
By Maureen McDonald
The Auto Channel
When an executive at a recent Toyota meeting waxed eloquent about the passenger car’s future, I did a happy dance. A little shift to the right, then to the left, then driving home thinking good thoughts about affordable, right-sized vehicles. I thought I was outnumbered when NADA says 70 percent of America’s population now prefers light trucks.
Do cars still have emotional appeal? Maybe is the best answer. “Yes” for Toyota, “No” for Chevrolet, once the largest seller of cars in America.
Auto writers praise the 2018 Camry for its emotional design, character performance and style. Bob Carter, the executive vice president of Toyota sales in North America reminds the media that Camry for 17 years reigns the top selling vehicle in America. But that’s not all, the carmaker who builds the Camry in Kentucky, also introduced a hybrid Corolla and Prius all wheel drive at the LA auto show earlier this month.
I’m cheering because I was afraid the passenger car was almost gone when Mary Barra, General Motors CEO announced the closure of the Lordstown plant in Ohio where auto workers made the Chevy Cruze. Lordstown had pumped out cars since 1966 when the Impala/Caprice came on line. Over the years they made the Vega, the Monza, the Cavalier and much more. Now the plant will be mothballed.
Strikes me as strange that an affordable $17,900 Chevy Cruze can’t sell while a $22.800 Camry is moving out of dealerships at a fast clip. Are passenger cars dead or have some manufacturers stopped marketing them because they make all their money on light trucks and SUVs? If we remember 2008, the big trucks sat on the lots when gas prices spiked at $4 a gallon and people clamored for little cars.
Automotive News reported this fall that car sales have hit a 60-year low, the slowest since 1958, the height of the pastel period. My friend Ellioitt went from a Beetle to a Hummer a few years back because he wanted to command a presence on the road. My friend Lynn traded a Toyota Camry for a Honda CRV to have room for her camping goods. Millions of consumers joined them, believing taller and wider was safer.
Experts say there’s no single reason why car sales have slumped so precipitously. Automotive News noted that Fiat Chrysler stopped production of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart to sell more Jeeps and SUVs. To be sure the behemoths get better fuel economy than a decade ago, and provide more space to buy those 30-package toilet paper packages, furniture you assemble yourself and the dreamy notion you will camp and bicycle at state parks all summer long.
Is it politically correct to say out loud that I love passenger cars? When I sell a variety of goods at the local flea market, I wish I had an SUV with an especially large cargo space. When I go camping with friends at a park about 90 minutes from home, I must make two trips. I can only buy so much at Costco before my VW Jetta trunk says “Nein!”
Then I remember one of the early CEOs of the Mercedes Smart Car speaking about these gas sipping vehicles. He and his wife loved to entertain friends for dinner on special occasions, but he didn’t feel the necessity to have an outstretched table every day of the week. Nor would he lug it around. Most people you see in these monster trucks with all wheel drive and thick tires are driving to and from Target with nothing on board.
I dated a guy with a monstrous truck who used it in his sculpting business. But he couldn’t park anywhere because it hung out beyond almost every vehicle in the parking garage. I had to bring my own step stool to get up to the seat without ripping a skirt. We fought so much over the truck it cost the relationship.
Still hoping the truck fad recedes. Someone like President Jimmy Carter will come into the presidency and remind us to conserve fuel, invest in affordable econoboxes like a Fiat 500 or Ford Focus. We would restart the GM Lordstown plant and pump out Cruzes by the thousands.
People tell us that autonomous cars are coming. The economy will tip so far to the wealthy one percent that the rest of us won’t afford anything on wheels but a scooter. We’ll use one of the ride-hailing services on the few times we don’t order our groceries and other goods from online services. Vehicle charges will only include the time we go to and from a destination.
Motor heads like me that love to go fast and free will have to Uber our way to a public race track like M1 in Pontiac where people rent a few laps around a race track in a Porsche, Ferrari or Corvette. We might go to Hertz to rent a truck on days we do need to haul antique furniture from an estate sale or take a kid’s belongings home from college.
Whatever the future, I hope, as Toyota predicts, that cars will remain a viable part of the future. These vehicles are easy to climb in and out, convenient to park and they look good. I’d tell anyone that I love my VW Jetta, the way it can angle into the tightest parking places. But for now, I have a heck of a time finding it in a sea of black SUVs and trucks that overwhelm every parking lot.