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Letter From The UK: End of Days?

Are We Witnessing The Automotive End Of Days?

As someone whose youth, fancy-free love life, musical taste, and motoring education is steeped in the bygone days of the 20th Century, I feel totally confident in my assertion, made not for the first time, that the Golden Age of Motoring is long gone. We shall not see its like again. It has also made me rethink my vehicle road-testing for the future.

Rules & Exceptions

It is not one single thing that has brought me to this pass, no; it is my recent experience of the latest cars and automotive advertising that I have had to endure. Most of the cars I have driven of late here in the blighted, benighted British Isles, have been perfectly fine in terms of build quality and the like but otherwise just so dull, dull, dull. To be balanced, I am currently driving the Peugeot 5008 which is attractive, versatile, and a decent drive (sorry, you can’t have it. The French brand is not returning to American shores for some time yet, if at all) and I like it a lot, but it is the exception that proves the rule.

Cars have become boring. Fact.

Peugeot 5008. Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

Autonomous Cars. Not.

Like a lusty salmon determined to spawn up-river, I realise I am hardly going with the flow here but, as yet, there are no such things as autonomous cars. The general media always get a bit carried away in a sort of “The future is now!!” manner, but the plain fact is that the current technology is simply super-glorified cruise control. Ask the British public if they are looking forward to ‘driverless’ cars and they will tell you “meh.”

Ask the European motor industry or the government however, for whom any bandwagon is the ideal way to hide all the bad news, and anyone would think that these do-it-all cars are just around the corner; they are not. Certainly all the technologies will work side by side for now but the real deal is many years away. Yet such is the furore being whipped up that it is my contention that car makers have misread the public’s collective mind.

Large 30736 HyundaiIONIQAutonomous
A recent study from CARiD uncovered some confusion as to what an autonomous car actually is. Less than half of the respondents correctly identified it as something controlled entirely by automated technology. A recent AAA study found that 73 percent of American drivers say they would be too afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle, up from 63 percent in late 2017. Photo: Hyundai Motor America.

Youth of Today

With millennials and younger generations more interested in the latest technology rather than transportation, the future of the car industry, to me, looks to be built on shifting sands. As someone who has driven spectacular cars on open roads and race circuits, I find the latest trend for cosying up to the youth of today is not thought through. The latest crop of TV advertising is looking increasingly silly and juvenile and tells viewers absolutely nothing at all about the cars.

Of course, car bosses aren’t stupid. Those brands that are quick thinking and not afraid to reinvent themselves will survive but I contend that many will not. Start-ups like Tesla are exploiting buyers’ imaginations. Clever companies like Uber and ride-sharing operators like Lyft and HyreCar are demonstrating that car ownership is no longer a necessity if a ride is just an app click away.

Uber Passengers India
Uber passengers share a ride in India. Photo: Uber

Somber & Gray

The reason so many cars are boring now is because they are about the lifestyle technology stuffed into them and not about engineering. Essentially they’re all the same under the skin. For grizzled old veteran curmudgeons like me it is the dawn of the beginning of the demise of motor cars as we know them. Thus I feel I will be testing fewer and fewer cars in the coming short term. I’m going to be picky and choose only those vehicles I believe have that extra something but I won’t be holding my breath.

Automotive end of days indeed.

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