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car man get it

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 03-Mar-2011

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 17

Wordcount: 805


To the carmakers of the future: build it green and give it flair


What’s with Julia? Didn’t she get the memo? First she cancels the emissions trading scheme that got her elected. Then she caves in on the mining tax, which could at least have salved our conscience on supplying the world’s carbon habit. Now she cans the green car initiative. It’s like, climate change? Bring it!

Never mind the paradox that will see us pay for climate-floods by generating more of them. Focus on the big issue. I wanted one of those cars.

Where men go for car as speeding (or spurting) bullet, women go for car-as-nest. Car as outsize handbag. Car as room. The biomorphics are obvious, but not obvious enough, it seems, for the world’s (overwhelmingly male) car designers.

They should be on it. Now that women make or influence more than 80 per cent of all car-purchases, the car-as-room deserves a lot more attention.

With houses, interior porn is an established chick-lit genre. Flick through any so-called “architecture and design” mag – which as a rule I avoid – and you’ll be lucky to find an exterior among them. It’s all about rooms.

The magazines that furnish women’s lavatories, and their secret fantasies, deal in the romance of other places, other lives, other worlds. The romance of the room.

But cars, those chambers in which so many of us spend so much of our lives, are designed as though room-romance didn’t exist.

Last time I bought a car it was because someone rear-ended my ancient Volvo, which was neither young enough nor old enough to be worth insuring. The perp produced an unpaid alimony demand as ID and a contact number that was cut off within hours so, since a Volvo tail-light was worth more than the car, the hunt was on.

I determined to find a car I actually liked. It was surprisingly difficult.

Most were either too boring, too tinny, too expensive, too sewing machine-like, too high-maintenance or too vulgar. Some, such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, were too expensive and too vulgar.

In the end, I decided a Saab, and only a Saab, had the right mix of intellect, Left Bank queerness and reliability. I do like a car that goes. It was also moderately green, in terms of road-load, with a good turning circle and an enjoyable acoustic, as evidenced not just by the satisfying thunk of its door-closure but also by the lovely flickety-sound its indicator makes.

But the clincher, re the Saab, was the room. It may be Saab’s airplane-making origins that led them to it, for the interior is as much cockpit as car (to the point where you expect push-button machine guns on the dash). But as a room, especially for the driver, immensely flattering. As a good room should, it makes you feel loved. And of course, I love it right back.

Only now, heartbreakingly, I’m back at square one, for Saab has stopped making cars. And now the question is not just aesthetic and spatial, but moral. Gulp.

Statistics here and in the US show that, although old people are holding on to their driver’s licences for longer, the young are increasingly unlikely to get their licence early, or at all.

Many blame the digital revolution for this (telecommuting, ease of connectivity on trains etc). In NSW, where the figures are similar, there are other factors, too, including the introduction of graduated licensing, increasing urban density around transport nodes and the tendency of young adults to stay in education and live at home. There’s also the cycling revolution which, in my case, reduces my car use to three or four times a week.

Which naturally suggests car-share. A rough calculation implies that car-share would reduce my motoring costs by about 85 per cent, even allowing for half-a-dozen weekends away a year. I’m not sure how much it reduces one’s carbon footprint, except through the disincentive of having to plan and book and, of course, pay, although it’s pretty cheap.

But what I’m still walking round is whether I’m up to it, spiritually. Can I forgo the pleasures of possession, cossetedness and flattery – the joys, so recently discovered, of leather bucket seats and default radio stations and singing to my rubbish CDs – that my Saab represents?

My perfect car would be an exact replica of the old Volvo or Carmen Ghia, not modernised like the VW Beetle, but with all the flair and class of the original, and with a new, silent, low-carbon engine and a sumptuous, real-materials interior. Or perhaps a replica of the Detroit Electric Brougham, of the kind owned by Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and our own Arthur Allen, which charged overnight, was silent and clean and which you drove, standing up, with a tiller. Just add a sail, windmill or PV and call it the Sydney Electric. Can that be so hard?


Correction suggestion by Peter Legzdins (03-03-2011 15:20)

Please note Carmen Ghia should be Karmann Ghia- styling by Luigi Segre of the Italian carrozzeria Ghia, and hand-built bodywork by German coach-builder Karmann.


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