Woman Car

Letter From The UK: It’s All About Influence

  • Cars today are better than ever, but are they also more bland than ever?
  • And are today’s cars reviews honest? Can you believe what you read online?
  • Geoff Maxted of DriveWrite Automotive Magazine examines in this Letter From The UK.

There is absolutely no doubt that almost all cars today are perfectly fine; panel gaps like yawning chasms are a thing of the past and shut lines are millimetre perfect. Car bodies no longer rust away at the first sign of rain and the choice of paint and finish is awesome. Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.

We’ve come a long way.

Plain Vanilla

Conversely, there is absolutely no doubt that almost all cars today are bland. They are the tofu of the automotive world. Play-it-safe design, accountant-led builds, and the ideal of the ‘World Car’ have meant that inspired or revolutionary conception seems to be a thing of the past, outside of the hugely expensive supercar sector. This explains the rise of the ubiquitous SUV and the really annoying thing is that we, the customer, are buying into this world because we seem to have little choice in the matter.

Witness the soon-to-be demise of the Ford Mondeo which has sounded the death knell of the saloon car. It’s all about influence.

“This explains the rise of the ubiquitous SUV and the really annoying thing is that we, the customer, are buying into this world because we seem to have little choice in the matter.”

The History Lesson

After the horrors of the Second World War, Great Britain slowly recovered and the motor show as we know it today was born. The British International Motor Show was held at the iconic Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London (arguably the first such dedicated venue in the country). Originally opened in 1887, the final permanent structure was built in an ‘art moderne’ style in 1935. Crowds flocked to it. Sadly (and mysteriously for such a much-loved building) its heritage listing was refused after it was acquired by developers. By 2017 it was completely gone.

In those days earnest, pipe-smoking men in Trilby hats discussed the benefits of the latest carburettor or damper, and a car was sold on merit. The pitch was extra miles per gallon, a larger trunk, two-tone paint or a more powerful engine, not about how the customer lived their lives.

Moving on, the time soon came when beautiful young women, often scantily clad (pauses to mop feverish brow) would drape themselves across hoods at the behest of motor show salesmen. The world of cars became one of male self-aggrandisement, the car as the trophy of success; the model you wanted to step out at the golf club to the admiring glances of the ladies. Not so much #MeToo as #YouAsWell. You could see the influence at work.

Fiat Ad
This vintage Fiat advertisement for the Model 850 proclaims it “inspired 50 automotive editors from 12 countries” to name it Car of The Year. The preceding caption implies if the reader is having trouble choosing between the two models, they can simply have both. Interestingly enough, the U.S. Government would later issue a recall for the cars for excessive rust.

History Now

Over the last few years things have changed. The car has become a lifestyle accessory, a bauble to dangle in front of your friends. The design of the thing doesn’t really matter, it is the technology inside that counts. That you are in touch with the world seems to be more important than being in touch with the road. In short, history shows that we are influenced by advertising despite allegedly loathing it, so does it really matter anymore what motoring journalists think?

We Are All Influenced

It is possible for car reviewers in the UK to borrow a vehicle for a week for road-testing. This writer does it and will, for example, soon be telling you about another car America can’t have right now – the Suzuki Jimny. In the world of cars you can read all about it; but will it change your buying options?

Has the decision already been made for you?

You see, as previously mentioned, all cars today are perfectly fine. Line up all the SUVs and ‘crossovers’ and take your pick because it doesn’t really matter. To find fault, car reviewers and even vloggers with no discernable talent or journalistic experience have to weed out any tiny issues like a subservient monkey picks out nits. This writer is not even sure that all online car reviews are honest anymore. Why rock the boat?

So nothing changes. Car manufacturers are always looking at new ways to influence buyers. And like smitten lovers we fall for it every time.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

Letter from the UK