Kev’s Truck – A study in automotive analogs

This is Kev’s truck.  To me it’s a good looking truck. It is the sort of truck I would have drawn in school when I should have been listening to something important. Big exhaust stacks, shiny rims, big bumper, it is the ideal picture of what I have grown up expecting a truck to be. This treatise owes it’s existence to Kev’s truck, it led to my ruminations as to why I should like it and it’s styling. So indulge me with some of your time, and I will make sure it is worth your while.

The Oxford Dictionary defines an analog as: a person or thing comparable to another, a similarity, a likeness. We can use an analog when we are considering a new idea or process, to help us in our thoughts and perception. The original point of reference, the ‘source’, is what a person looks to in order to understand or perceive something new, the ‘target’. This ‘source’ and ‘target’ system is a major part of the thought process, it helps us to build on pre-conceived ideas and head in new directions of thinking. This piece is going to centre on the automotive world, and how analogs affect perceptions within it.  Drivers, automotive manufacturers, automotive dealers, all come across analogs in their experiences, and without the use of analogs a good part of their industry would be non-existent. Not many ideas are fresh when it comes to the automotive world, sources of analogs can be traced all the way back to the dawn of the motorcar, and beyond.

A way to describe the use of analogs is in the largest rift in the Australian car scene. That of Ford versus Holden. Car preference seems to be hereditary in a large number of cases, this can be explained by an analog. A person’s preference for a type of car can be affected if one is to grow up hearing their father talk of Fords being only found on rubbish dumps, or Holdens being nothing but holes, oil leaks, dents and engine noises. The badmouthing of the ‘lesser’ brand, and the talking up of the brand of preference is the source, whilst the target is the offspring’s preference of brand.

This whole article is to be an analysis of these analogs, to show that the majority of automotive design and culture is built up on preconceived ideas, and why it is that these analogs exist. It is a cross between an automotive article and a philosophical piece, with nothing too taxing on the brain. All in all it is a shot at trying to work out why we think the way we do, and what we don’t think, in relation to the limousine, the sportsbike, the family SUV, and the everyday runabout.

To begin with, where do these analogs come from? For the 150 years the automotive industry has been around, the amount of sources for these analogs are far too numerable to mention. However for clarity in regards to this subject I will split the task into two areas: designer analogs and user analogs. When I talk of designer analogs I refer to manufacturers of vehicles and their accessories, the user section will talk of analogs encountered by users of anything automotive. To begin with, the section on design.

DESIGNER ANALOGS

No one was just sitting around and came up with the idea of matching an engine to a drivetrain and mounting the whole system in a carriage so as to make for a type of transport. The ideas of today hark back to those humble beginnings, with original concepts being built upon to culminate in today’s automotive offerings. Bertrand Russell said that the difference between art and science is that to partake in art one has to possess genius. However even the common man can practice science, he can use his ability to build on preconceived ideas’. To call car manufacture a science is not a stretch of the definition of science, it is a system that relies on experiment and hypothesis. Taking  the ‘hot’ hatches of today, it is possible for one to trace their line back to the 1984 Peugeot 205 GTi,  one of the iconic ‘hot hatches’ of the period. In turn the Peugeot’s front wheel drive layout has it’s roots in the Citroen Traction Avante of the 1930’s, one of four front wheel drive cars available at the time. Travelling even further back one will find that in 1895 a front wheel drive De Dion Bouton had been built in France. Nearly every idea on modern cars you will find was conceived in the first part of the automotive period, they are just refined forms of what has come before. The first supercharger system was fitted to a car by Karl Benz in 1885, the first turbocharger arrangement being fitted in 1905. Travelling back far enough, you will find analogs that made the transition from the time of wagon and carriage, to the automotive world. A good part of the first automobiles were just horseless carriages, wagon builders utilising skills learnt over centuries of manufacture in their industry. One automotive company went so far as to mount a prosthetic head on the front of their horseless carriage, in order to fit in with the majority horse drawn transport of the time.

horsey horseless

Horsey Horseless

One concept that survived the transition between horse drawn and motorised transport is that of the dashboard. Originally a piece of flat board mounted on the front of a wagon, it’s purpose was to stop rocks being kicked up at the driver while the horses were ‘dashing’. The first cars were of the same design as carriages, the driver mounted forward of the front axle, the dash board concept being retained as somewhere to place the foot pedals. As cars evolved, the driver position has migrated further and further back into the cockpit, the dashboard staying in front of the driver over the process. This has ended up with the ‘dashboard’ being mounted on the firewall in current model cars, a large move from it’s original position. One more example of this is the British concept of calling door quarter vent windows ‘quarter lights’. This definition harks back to the days of running lights being mounted on pillar forward of the door, another design cue from the days of horse drawn carriages.

One problem that can arise from manufacturers relying on analogs is that it can be hard for truly new ideas to arise. Electric cars, all-wheel drive, these are just a few ideas that have been around since the start of the 20th century,. It is only now that technology and manufacture processes have evolved enough to make these concepts feasible and reliable enough to be utilised in mass produced cars. This doesn’t mean though, that we are stuck with the ideas we have thus far. To once again take a line of thinking from Bertrand Russell, it’s not so much that the concepts we have are the only ones, it’s just that the simplicity of the concepts allows us to stumble across them more easily. New concepts may be thought up, they just may take more time and effort.

Using analogs can cause manufacturers into build design faults into their product as well. The fact that a concept works well in one application, does not mean it will automatically work well in another design.  Holden found this when they were designing the VN Commodore model. The V6 engine used on this model is a Buick design, which was first released in 1962. The use in the rear wheel drive Commodore meant the engine had to be changed from an east-west orientation to a north-south orientation. The engine bay was ample enough, however the positioning placed the thermostat housing hard against the firewall, making service of the unit difficult. The second series of VN Commodores changed the positioning of the thermostat to a more easily serviced part of the motor. This shows that engineers may need to not put complete faith in pre conceived ideas that work, that they may need reworking for ease of service. The source of the analog is reliability of the 3.8 litre GM unit, the target in the Holden engineers who didn’t look at the thermostat housing positioning as a problem.

In the manufacturer’s sales arsenal is the ability to use names of models that have gone before, and have some precedence in relation to high sales or collectability. This is not necessarily the evolutionary use of names, for subsequent models made in succession. This is more for rehashing model names of cars that have been dropped from the line-up over time, and then brought back in another form. This ‘re-thinking’ of certain successful models of cars is the use of an analog, the source being the performance of the original car, the target lying in the new generation of buyers. When BMW brought back the Mini to sell in it’s model range, it utilised people’s memories of the Issigonis designed car of the 1960’s. However the new car is nothing remarkable in itself, the engineering idea of a front wheel drive with a wheel at each corner to assist handling became the norm in the area of hatchbacks. The original Mini would have this to thank, with other car makers building their own analog based on the engineering principles of the original Mini as the source, the target being their own car design. To purists the new Mini is a bloated version of it’s former self, but to be fair BMW has to pass crash test standards Alec Issigonis never would have had to consider when he was designing the original. In aesthetic terms the car has little relation to the original Mini, apart from being front wheel drive, having a wheel at each corner and a similarity in body shape. Without the moniker it would probably just get lost in the sea of hatchbacks available on the market with the same engineering principles. However, by using the term ‘Mini’, BMW have managed to make good sales on the naming basis of a car they never came up with, only having the rights to the name itself.

Running along the same lines of thought, analogs can be used by car modifiers as well to make sales on products that would normally not stand out otherwise. This can be in any field of automotive accessories but I will use the HDT branding of certain products as the example. In the 1980’s the Holden Driving Team Commodores were some of the most sought after vehicles on the road. Recently a company has started making body components & mag wheels that pay homage to the original HDT Commodores. In themselves they look no better than anything HSV can option a current VE Commodore up with, but when looked at as designed in the spirit of HDT, they look a lot better. Without the HDT Commodore styling as a source, the body kits are not that different to anything else available on an already flooded market. So preference in relation to accessories can be affected by analogs as well.

In some cases to take a classic car and rethink the concept can lessen the view of the original car. Ford lost it when it produced the Mustang II, the new Suzuki Swift RE1 (although with decent enough sporting credentials) makes no mark on the original Suzuki Swift GTi of the mid-90s. Sometimes, to rethink these cars is to take away from the original. This will give any new generation of people who buy the rehashed model a lesser view of the original and all because the manufacturer deemed it necessary to reuse an old idea.

1974_mustang_hatchback_orange_001

                             Mustang II

Using analogs can sometimes look like a lack of motivation on the part of the manufacturer. This is true in part, but sometimes analog sources can arise from unlikely places, and being a business if profit is to be made then then a manufacturer will rehash an idea. Sometimes the source can be stumbled upon, a complete accident with no one realising the consequences of a certain action until looked at afterwards in light of the whole story. The original Ford Mustang was designed to be a lady’s run around car, with no sporting model to be released in the line-up. This was not to stay this way, the V8 engine model in the range showed the light weight of the car matched with the engine power showed a different type of perspective on the Mustang. The Mustang was the source of a whole new range of cars, known as the pony cars, the moniker coming from the Mustang name. Chevrolet Camaros, Dodge Chargers, Pontiac Firebirds were all created as rivals to the Mustang, and all because someone noticed the performance ability of the Mustang.  It seems the most memorable automotive designs are the ones that are least expected by both the manufacturer and the end user, and hyping up a design can make it hard for the final product to live up to it’s reputation. It’s the memorable car that you find makes it mark in the heat of a drag race, the slew of a corner, the emergency braking manoeuvre.

Popularity of a model of car can be affected by whether consumers have an analog source to look to when coming across a new idea. Australians have never really been predisposed towards convertibles. It could be the harsh weather effects on soft top vinyl, or the fact that when it’s hot it’s no use having the top down or you will get cooked alive, or that having a convertible was just a bit wanky….Either way the only real attempt Australia has made in the direction of convertibles is that of the Ford Capri of the late 1980s. Using the Mazda sourced driveline from the Ford Laser, the body designed by Ghia; Ford Australia produced a two door small convertible which was to be sold in both Australia and the US. Ultimately the experiment was a failure and the Capri was dropped from the Ford line-up after being on sale for four years. The main problem was roof sealing, the cause of numerous recalls. Both the designers and the Australian Capri owners had no source with which to go back to help them deal with the issues the Capri had. So the Capri was deemed a lemon and sales declined to the point where Ford did not see the model as financially viable.

Uncertainty of the car buying public with a certain type of car can lead to a lack in sales as well.  Until recently, where European coupes are making headway in popularity, Australians have never really had much experience with coupe cars. The exception to this is the ‘muscle car’ period of the late 60s/early 70s, where the styling of the American headquarters of the Australian carmakers Chrysler, Ford and GM Holden,  led to 2 doors being added to model ranges. Australia’s preference for sedans is not more evident than in the choice of the four door Ford Falcon GTHO as the top performance car in all Australia’s automotive history.

You must excuse me though; I have done the automotive manufacturers a disservice by painting them as lazy and unmotivated to come up with new ideas for their product. Manufacturers aren’t constantly going to be able to come up with new ideas for every model year. With all the easier concepts already in existence, more time and money needs to be spent on engineering and design to come up with something that hasn’t been done before. As time costs money, and money costs money, the manufacturers as a business concern can’t take too many risks. The majority of vehicles produced tend to be evolutionary, that is a follow on from a previous model, or the parts are interchangeable with another car in the model line. A completely new car requires engineering, manufacture of the tooling required to produce the vehicle, and aesthetic design, which these days has to tie in with crash protection systems. This is not an enterprise to be undertaken every model year; it is more feasible to stick with what a vehicle producer already knows. The trick is for designers to be able to look at pre conceived ideas in a new light, to see if current ideas can be applied in a new application, with no issues arising from doing so.

To paint a picture of what happens when a manufacture tries to produce an all new model, with no source for consumers to look to for verification as to the quality of the product, I am going to give two examples. Both examples are from exercises by the Ford Motor Company, one with a good situation turning bad, the other with a bad situation turning good. For our first example we can look to the events surrounding the launch of the Edsel brand, a division of the Ford Motor Company in America. In the 1950s Ford was looking for a middle tier brand, in order to match the product range offered by General Motors. The Edsel was mass marketed as an ‘all new car’, because that’s what Ford thought the American public wanted at the time. Manufacturing issues plagued the Edsel cars from the start, the sharing of the factory line with the Ford and Mercury branded cars meant tooling had to be hastily changed when an Edsel was coming down the line to be put together. Quality control at the end of the factory line was lacking as well, with many Edsel cars arriving at the dealership unfinished. Some even had additional parts that should have been fitted in the factory just sitting in the boot. The quality control (or lack thereof) issue was most visibly shown by Frank Sinatra attempting to open an Edsel door whilst on a chat show, and the handle coming off in his hand. Such a show of a lack of a quality hurt Edsel badly in sales, Frank’s door handle putting a doubt-riddled source in people’s minds in relation to the brand.

Edsel1

   Ford Edsel advertisement

On top of this, by mass marketing the Edsel as an all new car, potential purchasers did not have a point of reference to go back to, no source to rely on when considering purchasing the car. Established brands tend to have ‘buyer bases’, loyal customers who own preceding models and are happy enough with the quality in order to purchase a new car in the same brand. Edsel, although headed by Ford, was pushed as being a whole new car, so potential purchasers couldn’t even look to Ford for assurance that this new model range was of a high enough quality. After only 2 years of production the whole line was dropped and Ford went back to having only two car brands. It’s not that the Edsel was of a bad design, it had optional seatbelt fitment way  many other American manufacturers deemed it necessary. If the parts were fitted properly then the cars would not have had the source of bad workmanship when someone was considering purchasing one. Mixed with Ford’s overhyping of the brand as an all new car, this brought about the demise of the Edsel brand.

To break up these two examples I would like to share with you my theory of the good, the bad and the neutral. This is a system of thought in relation to memories and how the quality of an experience affects how well our recollection of the experience works. It is my own theory, I have not seen it written anywhere else, but I do spend too much time in abstract thought, and I am not much of a scholar. So it goes like this: Whether a situation is good, bad or neutral our memory storage of the situation can be affected by the quality of the experience. When a situation is good,( e.g. finding a good coffee shop, travelling down a winding road at good speed etc) the experience is worth remembering, but not the strongest experience worth remembering. A neutral situation, (e.g. finding a car space, watching mediocre television, etc) is not worth remembering at all as it has no quality about it what is worth remembering. However, in regards to a bad situation, (e.g. almost getting hit by a truck, realising you have overrated your riding skills while coming into a corner at speed, etc) these situations are most likely to form strong memories. I believe this is evolutionary, when finding a waterhole was good, eating something was neutral, and trying to spear a mammoth on your own is bad. The good and the neutral are both not going to necessarily shorten your life, but the bad one is might have a high chance of making sure you will never encounter a good, neutral or bad situation again. Even though mammoths are gone, and water is plenty, analogs in relation to experiences that are bad tend to stick with us more than the other two. As an example in relation to the automotive world, think about just the good and the bad situation. When was the last time someone said to you ‘X makes a really good strong car’? Think of the last time someone said to you ‘I had an X and it was always in the shop, it never worked right from when I picked it up’. Which one do you think you would be more likely to remember?

So bad impressions are out there, but in good news for manufacturers it is possible to overcome this problem by overriding the source of the analog with a good situation so strong in it’s manner that people are brought back to looking at a product in a good light. It takes time and perseverance to overcome bad analogs in relation to a brand, and as a business a manufacturer can’t keep throwing money at a vehicle that won’t sell as well as required. On the other hand, a manufacturer may have spent so much time and effort on a car brand that to drop a model would be a loss of all the time and money spent of the vehicle thus far. In 1960 Ford Australia imported the first Ford Falcon models into Australia. Designated the XK Falcons, these cars were designed for American freeways and boulevards, and the Australian roads were too hard on them to deem them of high quality. Subsequent models have many revamps of components that failed on prior models, and the belief is that Ford got it all right in the 1964 XP model Falcon. However the quality issues of preceding Falcons had caused analogs that put doubt in potential buyer’s minds, and sales were faltering. To add to this the Australian Ford buyer base were used to larger cars, like the Customline that was replaced by the Falcon. To remedy the doubts as to build quality the head of Ford Australia devised a 70 000 mile endurance race at the new You Yangs testing track just outside Melbourne.  5 XP Falcons were run non stop for the full length set by Ford, over the 10 days all the cars wearing out tyres, fuel and drivers as they pushed for the finish line. All five cars finished, and Ford were able to prove the reliability of the new model. The whole affair was a massive gamble on Ford’s part, but on the other hand they had little to lose if the stunt didn’t work. Ford had invested a lot of time and money into the Falcons, getting the model worthy for Australian roads. To drop the model would mean to start again, as the majority of the marketing by Ford at the time was for the Falcon. It was really a make or break stunt, and it paid off well for Ford with the Falcon model still being available today.

These are just two examples of what happens when manufacturers try to sell a car, with no analogical source for possible buyers to look to. So as you can see the manufacturers have to rely on analogs; to start anew on an idea, to design a concept,  releasing a new model, runs massive risks that as a business, the manufacturer can’t afford to take. Or it needs to put a lot of thought into the process, not to rush it. So these concepts of evolution of models, that nothing is particularly new in the automotive world, is due to producers being businesses, that profit needs to be made, with the least amount of labour and funds spent.

So that is the manufacturers’ side of the story. Automotive analogical sources stretch far back in time, beyond even the first cars that were produced. To build on pre-conceived ideas works well for manufacturers, allowing for more profit by spending less on design and engineering. This comes at the cost of unforeseen issues by using a concept in a car that it may not be suited to.  As mentioned before, the best ideas for any automotive manufacturer would be to try pre conceived ideas, but look at it from a different angle, maybe using different designers, or getting in outside feedback on the preconceived idea in a new application. The final problem I can see is that the mass producers of vehicles see ideas that work and utilise them in their own cars. This culminates in a large section of the currently produced cars being a homogenous mass, with no real points that stand out as all models carry the same concepts. And as someone who enjoys looking at cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, any sort of machinery really, it doesn’t bode well for the future of people being interested in upcoming vehicles

USER ANALOGS

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a driver licence, must be in want of a vehicle. Where to look for info as to what vehicle to choose though? The decisions made in relation to automotive preference are no different to those made by manufacturers, it’s just that individual end users of any sort of vehicle tend to have more personalised views in relation to analogs. Individual people have different experiences,and this colours their view on cars, trucks, bikes, whatever. Manufacturers tend to take a business minded, or industry minded approach, whereas those who use the cars can be affected by so many influences it can make one’s head spin. This part looks at how the users of the cars, you and I, look to analogs, and how analogs affect our car preference, driving type, and approach to car culture. Some people float on the edge of car culture, using well used analogical sources to base ideas on. Some people immerse themselves in the greasy fuel drenched world of automobilia, no differently using analogical sources in their thinking. This section is aimed at both those types of people, and everyone between, to put these ideas in the open, and hopefully instigate some discussion on particular matters.

Let’s begin with automotive culture itself. As I have mentioned before, certain areas of automotive preference tend to be hereditary. This makes sense as we tend to spend a lot of time with our parents growing up, and a lot of their traits can be taken up by us. Included in this is our relationship to vehicles, through driving style, choice of vehicle, mechanical approach to the vehicle (e.g. whether a mechanic works on the car or a parent works on the car), customising of the vehicle and vehicle turnover rate. People tend to look up to their parents, using them as an analogical source for their own targets when they come of age. This tends to tie in with customising culture as well, as to the type of customising done, and the amount of customising done. If a small child grows up around a 1978 Ducati 900SS, then there is a good chance that the child will take in some aspect of this analogical source. It may not be a 1978 Ducati 900SS the child has in preference, it could be that the Ducati factor, or the café racer factor, or the child may come to like bikes from the era. It could just inspire the child to get a bike licence, but by doing so has taken his parents’ ownership of the Ducati as a source of his analog. It’s not all about the parents though.

ducati_900ss

1978 Ducati SS

If you look at different points in history , you will find allegiances to different types of vehicles, in different areas of the world. In the 1960s American cars were big, English cars were small, Australian cars were in the middle, and Japanese cars tended to be small. In the 1980s more American cars were designed to be smaller, English cars were medium sized, Australia was aiming towards a smaller car market, and the Japanese cars were getting larger in size. To take one point in history and time, and mark the ultimate source of an analog would be a folly. One needs to look as far forward, and as far back as possible to see why things are the way they are.

To illustrate this I will I will discuss the history of European cars in Australia, then go through where analogical sources show up. At the turn of the century, to see a car in Australia was a rare sight. Some clever fellows had fitted motors to their bicycles to become the first  Aussie motorcyclists, but the car hadn’t made a proper appearance yet. Complete chassis units or already built cars were imported individually by  the lucky few with enough money to do so. Slowly more cars appeared, and the first Australian licence was issued in 1906. All these first cars, whether English, European or American were simple in their design. This made them easy to work on, and gave them more chance of surviving Australia’s terrible road system of the time. As time went on, those who worked on coaches and wagons turned their eye to the automotive industry, seeing a chance to use already mastered skills in being able to repair these new masters of the road. This was especially seen in the area of body building, where the builders could use their own design for the body, to suit the harsh Australian conditions. The European cars held up well, even with the rough treatment they got from their Australian owners. I read an article about the now gone Broken Hill motor raceway, where a Hispano Suiza had a log attached to it, that was dragged through the bush in order to make the outline of the track. The oldest known Alfa Romeo in history made it’s way to Australia, where it has handed down from owner to owner, ending up as a stationary engine to work a water pump in the Australian outback. These are just two examples of the hardiness of the European vehicles initially brought to this country.

In 1907 the Federal government brought in an Empire preferred system, so that chassis and components brought in from England were duty free. Match with that the fact bodies from England were being hit with a 30% tariff, as opposed to the 35% charged to those imported from other countries. This made buying a European car a more costly exercise than bringing one in from the motherland, and this drove their sales down.

In the early part of the century, after the First World War and the Depression, European manufacturers were reluctant to continue sending, or commence sending vehicles to Australia. This thinking also precluded the thought of setting up dealerships, or selling franchise rights. This was due to the logistics involved not being worth the profit made, and with automotive manufacturers still rebuilding factories, and companies after the war. At this point the amount of European cars being sent to Australia dropped. Between 1900 and 1920 the automotive industry flourished, with bodybuilders, tyre salesmen, car parts supplier, automotive mechanics, service station attendant, all positions brought about by the birth of this new industry. Not exactly new positions, these tended to be positions that evolved from services in the area of wagon and coachbuilding. At this time the amount of cars on the road gradually multiplied greatly, thus the need for better services in relation to them.

The World Wars saw many manufacturers turn to munitions, military vehicle manufacture, and the automotive industry ground to a halt. In between the wars it took time for the European carmakers to get back into business, so once again they were held back in their sales in Australia. It wasn’t until after World War 2 that European manufacturers began to make a proper attempt at selling cars in Australia, with Mercedes Benz Australia opening for business in 1955, and others following suit. By this time there was quite a presence of manufacturers already established in Australia, and building cars locally. This put the European cars at a disadvantage, to have to catch up to the ability of the already functioning factories, and parts suppliers. Although some European cars were built here, they were engineered back in their home country. The problem was that their home country tended to have much finer roads, and the what a car went through in Europe was different to what it had endure in the Australian climate. Quality issues were abound, and it took a long time for European cars to be seen as on the same level of quality as locally produced cars.

The cars imported from the continent tended to be more expensive than the locally produced fare as well. This may have put people in the mind of seeing the Euro cars as a higher class of car, something a bit ‘wanky’. And in Australia, due to the tall poppy syndrome which abounds, the purchase of such vehicles would be excessive, when an Australian produced vehicle would suffice. The import and shipping cost of bringing vehicles here would have raised the price, where if someone was to buy the car somewhere in Europe, it would not have been much more expensive than a locally produced vehicle.  This may have carried over from when the first cars brought in under the Empire preference tax laws, which saw the European cars being punished because they weren’t English.

1960 Skoda

1960 Skoda Felicia

It was during the 1960s that Japanese carmakers were beginning to have an impact on the Australian car industry. The reliability of their vehicles is high, when compared to the other imported vehicles of the era. Added to this was the Japanese car price was lower than other imported cars, which added to their appeal. This was also the time the European manufacturers put more effort into establishing franchises in Australia, so the European cars also had to contend with the cheaper, more reliable Japanese cars on the market.

Throughout the 1970s & 1980s reliability and poor build quality in light of Australian conditions were the biggest issue for European carmakers. The franchises were trying to sell cars, but the demographic of the people buying European cars tended to be those more well off. These people turned over their cars regularly, and once warranty was over the cars would depreciate in price due to the lack of longevity in Australian conditions.

After much hard work, in the 1990s European manufacturers worked out the design problems in their cars, and have been working hard since to build up a reputation. More recently more European carmakers, such as Opel and Skoda, have made strong attempts to enter the Australian car market. The popularity of European cars has risen, the stigma of bad build quality slowly being lost, the popularity of European styling meaning carmakers can use popular aesthetic styles as a means of selling cars. The establishment of dealerships allows for aftersales support in the areas of warranty, sales, service and spare parts backing for franchises, allowing customers to rely on these services during the ownership of their vehicle. This has culminated in a rise in sales of European cars in Australia, however the spectre of bad manufacturer support is still strong in the minds of many Aussies.

As you can see, the history of European cars in Australia has shown a gradual change in the perception of this style of car. From a strong start, the European car market in Australia declined in popularity, seeing a change in recent times towards acceptance of European automotive products. You have to look at the whole spectrum when it comes to an idea of why European cars are perceived the way they are. From a strong start, the sales of European cars were held back by the price of importing, and the Empire preferential taxing system. As well as this the engineers didn’t factor in Australian conditions when designing the cars. This is not so much for the issue of build quality, but the materials used couldn’t cope with the task asked of them. This has produced the analogical sources of European cars being more expensive to own, of lesser quality than other cars on the market, and of having a high depreciation rate.

Today, the European manufacturers’ willingness to put money into dealerships, advertising, setting up head offices has allowed the Australian public to have a chance to own a European car with a lot less hassle than they would have 20 or 30 years ago. The ability to have factory trained technicians in the workshop, local spare parts warehouses for parts supply, and a head office to ensure franchises are run in the manufacturers’ best interests, are all able to add a good quality source in relation to people’s perception of the product. However, as mentioned before, bad analogical sources are harder to displace than good ones, so the European car market still has to work harder to make sales than the Japanese or Australian produced cars would have to. All because of what has come before.

There are so many different influences upon a person in relation to analogs, that it can be something small that can affect a large part of a person’s view. There is a belief, coming from the days of the 1960s British car industry, that cars of a poor quality are termed ‘Friday cars’. By this, whoever coined the term refers to the lack of interest workers show towards the end of the week. This culminated in cars that are built later in the week being of a lesser quality than those built earlier in the week, by way of workers thinking about the looming weekend. The term itself relinquishes the manufacturer of any fault, putting forth it was a lazy worker that caused the problem in the car. To anyone not aware of this term, there is no other way of compensating for the fact that they have bought a car that hasn’t been built to the highest quality. It may not necessarily be the fault of a worker whose mind is elsewhere, it could just be a batch of faulty parts, or one part that whose function affects other parts by a fault of engineering. Either way, to not have a source of the term ‘Friday car’ would leave a disgruntled car buyer with no other analogical source to look to, in order to compensate for bad feelings towards their car, or manufacturer.

To bring this idea into the 21st century we can look to the engineering process of parts, and initial design of cars. The build process mainly consists of computer programs running robots, with humans running minor tasks and taking care of quality control. With less human interference, the robots can only do what they are programmed to do, with a human having the initial programming duties. Parts are designed to the best of an engineers abilities, but with even the best designer on the job this doesn’t accept what will happen to a car once it is out on the road. A car are subject to thousands of different forces which affect it’s components, from the suspension, to the internal combustion engine, to the flush fit of the doors in the body. The realisation that these forces can affect some parts, causing them to wear quicker than something on a similar model, may be due to slight differences in engineering tolerances which multiply over the life of the components due the forces acted upon it. Although it seems a weak excuse as to why a car would break down, or fail to start, if you look at it this way it might not bring about a bad analogical source in relation to a car, just that to put it simply ‘sh*t happens’.

Custom car culture is a major area where analogs can affect perceptions. As mentioned before, car preference tends be hereditary, as one’s parents tend to be looked up to, and bring about a major part of what makes up a person. My parents owned Ford cars when we were growing up, I believe that is part of the reason I lean towards the Ford camp as well. Look at what cars you parents own, and see if you have any preference along the same lines. The same tends to go for customising though, albeit not necessarily from your parents. My favourite toy growing up was a Nissan 300ZX matchbox car, it’s still my dream affordable car. With this car as a source, and with all the cars I have encountered in my years and years of reading everything automotive I can get my hands on, it’s still what I want today. With customising as well, something from long in your past can still affect you.

While driving down the freeway I passed a mini truck club cruise, and had a good look at the cars on the cruise.  I have never been a fan of this scene, I can’t see the aesthetic appeal of making a ute look half it’s height, with big wheels and fibreglassed tailgates. I can only think of one mini truck that I have ever seen that I really liked, a shortened early 90’s Rodeo sitting on what I consider tasteful rims. However, this is just my view. To write off these mini truckers due to my own tastes would be to paint them in a lesser light. These guys tend to modify their own rides, getting dirty for the sake of customising their vehicles, which I think puts them in a better light than these car forumites who boast online of their stock vehicles running loud exhausts. There really is not any difference between a minitrucker cutting up his tray to fit air piping, and a Ferrari owner tuning up his carburettors, it’s just that the car enthusiast’s passion for cars has a different outlet. To take a subsection of car culture and deride because you don’t find the end product pleasing to your eye, is to dismiss the passion involved in the work required to customise a car beyond the normal means available. If I was brought up in a house where utes were modified, then there is a chance I would be into minitrucks. If I grew up around friends whose parents modified minitrucks then I might have a preference for them as well. Due to my upbringing of being around stock standard cars, and none of the media I was prone to come across had any minitrucking sources in them, so that could be where my distaste was generated. Before you go looking down on a subculture of car customising, or any subculture really, look where they are coming from, and look where you are coming from. This might make you reconsider your view.

Social status in relation to cars is an area that analogs have an effect on as well. Using an item that is excess to your requirements shows a person has money to spare, that they are financially secure enough to be able to spend frivolously. For example, to run 22” rims on a Commodore is far in excess of requirements,  but it will get attention because it is such an excess. This underlying premise leads people to buy bigger cars, to put bigger wheels on their cars, or to modify a vehicle for modifications sake. If I went back 60 years this may hold true, for back then materials were expensive, and labour was cheap. Today it has flipped though, with materials being cheaper, and labour being more expensive. Today it is costs a lot less to purchase a large car, and with so many countries producing cheap modification parts, it is easy to customise a car to look like it is of a higher value than it actually is. The analogical source of car size being related to wealth is a falsehood, which has produced so much excess based upon the idea. There are massive Landcruisers travelling our roads that will never feel mud, Range Rover Sports that will never feel a fern brush against it’s rear quarter panel, the idea of buying these vehicles is more to show social status than actual utility.

While on the subject of large vehicles, I would like to introduce the idea of the analogical source that ‘being in a larger car will ensure your safety in an accident’. This argument needs to be split into two parts, to consider vehicles of the older sedan style large cars, and large cars of the newer SUV type. Larger doesn’t necessarily mean better in regards to safety of either type of vehicle. Let’s take on the idea of the older cars’ first. Over time the safety of cars has improved beyond measure, making for lower injury risk in case of an accident. Car designers didn’t have safety on the forefront of their mind, and any safety precautions were rather rudimentary. Seatbelts, collapsible steering wheels, crumple zones and eventually the electronic driver assist systems we have fitted to cars today have been gradual in becoming part of mainstream car production. Older cars, although giving the impression of being safer, do not have the ability to survive a crash as well as a newer vehicle, which funnel the force of an impact around the vehicle occupants. Older cars have no flexibility, in a high impact incident they either split open, or push the panels/firewall/dashboard onto the occupants in a bulldozer blade of pain. This is something that has been changed by the safety systems implemented in today’s cars. I myself have seen on the television show ‘5th Gear’, where a 940 Volvo was run head on into a Renault Modus, the belief being the tank of a Volvo would smash the small car into pieces. The reality was that the little Citroen took the impact rather well, and with it’s ability to divert the force around the driver, was able to push into the Volvo as far as the firewall,  potentially crushing the legs of the Volvo driver. This is just one example of the misdirection that the analog ‘bigger is better’ has shown itself to be wrong. Without proper safety systems in place, it makes no difference if you are in a larger car, and the older the car is the less safe you will be if there is an incident.

5th gear crash

5th Gear crash test

Now to the issue of SUV type vehicles. In order to make a vehicle larger, but not compromise on mobility and parking ability, engineers tend to raise the cabin up higher from the ground. This mode of design pushes the centre of gravity up higher, making for less stability when compared to a station wagon type vehicle which is generally lower to the ground. This raises the risk of rolling over if the vehicle goes into a spin, and although driver assist systems lessen the chance of this, the possibility is still higher than if in a lower vehicle. Centre of gravity makes such a difference in the handling of a vehicle, ride in a Mazda CX9, then ride in a Ferrari and tell me which one feels more grounded. The other problem in relation to SUV type vehicles being safe, is that the idea is not favourable in relation to other non SUV driving road users. The whole idea of an SUV being safe is that you sit higher up from the road. By following this line of reasoning, the SUV is safe because in case of an accident, the other vehicle (providing it is not also an SUV) will go under the SUV and the SUV will go over the top of the other other car. Surely this does not make for a shared sense of responsibility in relation to road safety.

Over the past decade it has become popular, and cheaper, to be able to fit bodykits, lowered suspension, spoilers, larger wheels, modified exhaust systems, to make a car look like a higher spec model, or just to be able to customise the vehicle to stand out from the mass of carbon copy cars for sale today. The problem with these additions is that they are mostly cosmetic, and add little to the actual performance of the modified car, making the user push a car harder than it is capable of handling. Take for instance, wheels. Adding larger rims to a car generally means the tyre width enlarges as well. However, if the tyre shop is looking to make profit they may put cheap low profile tyres on the rims, with a lower level of friction. If a car owner was to take off his standard tyres and rims, putting on the larger type, he may be fooled into believing that a larger tyre means more friction, and push the car hard into a corner expecting the tyres to hold him. Bolt on additions for the sake of aesthetics are by no means a bad idea, it’s just that one should consider the addition, and whether he is willing to accept the changes in the car affecting these changes.

Looking to racecar inspired car models for inspiration does no good either. Basing a car model preference upon performance of a racecar can be a folly too, with race cars gaining high performance, specialised suspension for certain tracks, and powered by far from stock engines.  The racecars also gain rollcages, fire extinguishers and are driven by people who drive fast for a living. Anyone who buys a particular model because a certain car wins a motor race is going to be sorely disappointed. If he does try to drive his car in the manner he has seen it raced, then he is likely to hurt himself, or even worse, somebody else. The catchphrase ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ is a relic from the age when racecars used to driven off the factory floor straight out to the racetrack. Today though, the production model and the race prepared model have gone separate ways, due to more stringent safety regulations, litigation issues and changes in racing regulations that allow upgrades not financially feasible in production models.

An extension of this line of thought, is another of overestimation of a vehicle’s and skills driver, in relation to it’s actual ability. Recent media such as ‘Initial D’ and ‘The Fast & the Furious’ centre around racing high performance cars illegally on public roads. In some instances this may cause media viewers to push their vehicle beyond what is legal, or possible in the realm of physics. On my motorcycle learners course I encountered a person who had only just regained his licence that day, losing it during a spirited run in his Holden Astra after watching the Fast and the Furious 5. It is unfortunate that some people fail to differentiate between real life and Hollywood, but this is in no way a recent phenomenon.  Movies like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’, the original ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’, these movies promoted driving of a reckless nature. It’s only that now the special effects in movies have allowed for more impressive stunts, and computer generation shows cars driving in ways that would never happen in real life.

The last area of user perception I wish to discuss is that of a misconception brought about by an analogical source, in relation to the safety of newer cars. The premise that newer vehicles are safer than ever is true, of that I have no doubt. However, this I believe leads to a complacency in drivers, as more trust is put into the car’s abilities than should be warranted. Vehicle stability systems, crash protection systems, braking systems have all evolved massively, since car safety began to be more focussed on in the 1950’s. Apart from an increase in the amount of time to practice learning with an adult in the car, and the ability to take licences from those who are medically unfit, nothing has changed the attitude people have towards driving. If anything, the availability of motor vehicles has allowed people to take having a car for granted, that a car is nothing more than a form of transport, with no thought required beyond basic acceleration, braking and steering. Here’s a thought though, your whole cars weight, and the safety of it’s occupants, it’s friction and braking ability, relies on four pieces of rubber, slightly larger than a piece of A4 paper. For one of these wheels to lose contact on the ground you lose a good part of car control.

Further to this, the evolution of motor vehicles means people have access to more powerful cars than ever before. In relation to power to weight ratio, a 1966 HR Holden had 114hp while the current model VE Omega, the base model has 235hp. A car can be fitted with all the safety equipment available on it, but all these do is reduce the risk severity of an accident. Generally the problem is that in nearly all accidents tend to be be driver related, or in technical terms: ‘caused by the nut behind the wheel’. Car safety and performance abilities have evolved in automotives, but driver attitudes have not. The increased complacency in relation to driving, through not paying attention to road conditions, by overestimating the acceleration and braking capabilities of newer cars, all add to the risk of the misconception brought about by the analogical source, that newer cars are safer than they have ever been.

Summary

So now we return to Kev’s truck, to look at it again using the information I have discussed. Kev’s truck is a Kenworth, it’s design aesthetic can be traced back to the early part of the automotive industry. Trucks tended to be designed along the same lines as cars, with high and narrow bonnets, flared front guards, running boards all part of the design layout. The aesthetic design style of Kenworth has changed little since it’s inception, with utility found in having flared guards to allow for wider wheels and brakes to fit under, the high narrow bonnet reducing wind drag, the running boards allowing for ease of entry & exit from the cabin. The major difference you will find during the evolution of Kenworth trucks, of any American truck really, is that of the size of the front grille and bonnet, and the proportions in relation to these two components. Larger, higher power engines call for larger radiators to assist cooling, hence the increase in the size of the bonnet and the grille to accommodate them. Kev’s truck is one part of a long line of trucks, that you can see where it came from, and where it has gotten to today. This is because the manufacturer realised the design was good, and didn’t require a change beyond what is required. It would be a gamble on Kenworth’s part if it were to change the design drastically, and if the perceived quality of the truck was to lower due to a change, it would build an analogical source which can be hard to shake. This is just the manufacturers’ side though.

If I was to walk down the main street of Shenszen in China, or Bangalore in India, I would look at the trucks and they wouldn’t look good to me. The chinese trucks would be dirty, with no chromework to talk of and the Indian trucks would be painted by brushes, trying to stand out from all the other colourful as all hell trucks in India. My analogs, built up on during my years on this earth, allow me to look at Kev’s truck as the paradigm of a big rig. The aluminium wheels, large exhaust stacks, big shiny grille and bumper all fit in with my idea of a proper prime mover, with nothing that could be judged as outlandish or too open to interpretation. It is just a damn good looking truck, with nothing to spoil the view. My analogical sources in relation to why I favour Kev’s truck, is built upon watching American television, and the ability of American trucks to stand out when compared to the homogenous masses of European and Japanese trucks on the road. American trucks are generally personalised, with assorted chromework, wheels, paintwork etc, along with whatever the owner decides to do to the interior. As well as this American trucks generally are built to customers’ specifications, with many different options  available and the assembly line having the ability to fit these different options without too much difficulty. Compare this to Japanese and European trucks, which traditionally have never been customised.  It is only recently that it has been made possible to order a Japanese truck in a colour other than white, and the option list has also been a lot shorter on Japanese trucks than on American trucks. The major difference I believe between American trucks, and the other types of truck on the road, is that the other types’ owners see their trucks as a means to an end, as a tool with which to do a job. American truck owners tend to see trucks as an end in themselves, always thinking of different options to customise their trucks, to make them stand out. This makes for Kev’s truck to be one of the ones that stands out.

Low to the front left

So to someone with my collection of analogs, Kev’s truck is a proper representation of a big rig. To anyone with different analogical sources, whether they be hereditary, cultural or whatever else they may look to in the area of automotive preference, Kev’s truck may not look as attractive as it does to me. The idea that you don’t find a certain section of car culture appealing, to dismiss it because it doesn’t fit in with what you know, may be because you are looking at the idea wrong. Take some time to mull it over, you might just come up with some new ideas of your own, to appreciate a view that might otherwise be obscured.

Photo Credits:

Horsey Horseless – Time.com

Mustang II – Slickstang.com

Edsel advertisement – Amazon.com

Ducati SS – Zuuman.com

Skoda Felicia – Flickriver.com

Volvo & Renault Crash – 5th Gear

The pictures of Kev’s truck are my own.

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