Boxes on Wheels

At the risk of being the instigator of the classic afeared conversation starter at a party:’What are you driving at the moment?’ This leading to a conversation about cars you are desperate to escape from. A lot of people are interested in cars and I don’t really get it, I am one of those people who view cars as a convenient and often necessary way of getting around. Really, the lines of traffic all going the same way just suggest to me that it would be simpler and more efficient having a comprehensive public transport network. However public transport in the UK at least is rubbish and the solution the world is heading towards is self-driving cars, which isn’t a terrible idea.

Cars have two big advantages, you can go where you are going quickly when you want to and you can choose a car to suit you as an individual. This choice of car has led to massive design efforts, marketing development and driven technological advancement, notably in fuel efficiency.

The thing is, with cars, like most other consumer products, makes me feel like an outsider, rarely do I feel that anything is marketed at me; I’m a white male , this shouldn’t be happening to me! What I require from a car is simply comfort, but I include in that having a semi-decent stereo. It just seems that there is huge amounts of development of unimportant features and comfort is only considered as an afterthought. I’ve about to move to a city again with a new job, so until I find a new place to live, I’m lumbered with up to four hours commuting every day. Anyway, on my car, one I’d picked for comfort, the windscreen wipers broke, so I left it at a local garage to fix and was given a courtesy car. The courtesy car was one of them superminis, just really uncomfortable for a tall chap like me. What I noticed was how much it drank petrol, due to a really low gear ratio. What this made me realise is that I have a preference for medium size cars. I have this preference because beign a rural person most of my journeys are over an hour long, the nine hour drive from Mid Wales to Fife in Scotland was a regular thing when I lived in Scotland. So perhaps this is why I value comfort, ease of driving over long distances and fuel efficiency. However I can see the point of a low gear ratio supermini, they are great for driving around cities: they are nippy (you can change lanesĀ  and turn tight corners quickly and easily), the low gear ratio makes them really efficientĀ  at sub 30mph driving and they are easy to park. Having a medium size car it’s always frustrating driving between 25 and 30mph, not quite fast enough for 4th gear but inefficient in a high revving 3rd gear. So, my courtesy car was great getting out of the city, but hopeless on the 45 to 60mph cross country drive.

I’m not a terrific driver but I do enjoy it, when I’m not stuck behind something (so I only have to worry about my own driving and not the person in front of me) it’s just nice to be able to have the excuse to listen to the radio for extended periods. I do like the idea of self-driving cars, but it will utterly change what we do on journeys and should radically change how cars are designed, once the need for humans to take over from the computer is eradicated. This worries me because, at the moment I can find a car that suits me and how I drive, simply because there is so much subtle diversity in makes and models of cars. However I fear that once the marketeers take over and a possible end to the owner-driver model (I imagine a system where most of us will effectively use driver-less taxis), that cars will become less comfortable and my needs will not be catered for. Us rural types have it bad enough in being ignored in most technological advances, we still don’t rely on 100% mobile phone signal coverage. Indeed rural people need cars to survive in a way town and city dwellers don’t; because urban dwellers have most needs near-by and public transport for medium to long distance journeys. Yet, as I have written in the past, even cities are getting harder to live in as shops become more spaced out, I even read somewhere that housing near supermarkets is more expensive.

It’s just the whole marketing of cars, still seems to be largely at men, about features and image, completely irrelevant things to me. However I have spent my life not being part of the market, always finding the things I like at the fringes, in the small independents. Actually, my new job is really strange, it’s the first time I’ve ever worked in a proper office and I sit in meetings discussing marketing campaigns, I have to rely on doing lots of statistics to discover what customers apparently want, rather than any innate ability to know what the majority of customers want. It’s such a different world as is the world of commuting by car. In the past I’ve always managed to find ways of either using public transport or even walk to work (that was so nice).