A brighter future for sales reps and manufacturers…
“Let there be light.” Genesis 1:3
Anybody who grew up in the early 1980s will tell you that technology’s hold and influence on our lives was about the same as that of health and safety at the time; kids played with wanton disregard for both life and limb, with neither hide nor hair of a fluorescent jacket.
Back then ‘Social Networking’ consisted of agreeing which tree to meet up at after tea, ‘Wireless Connectivity’ meant the 9ft cable between the TV and remote control wasn’t needed anymore, and choosing what to watch on ‘the box’ was as easy as 1, 2, 3 (and 4, once dad had re-positioned the aerial). Watching ‘Sky’ was pretty boring, you couldn’t ‘Google’ anything and being ‘Time Starved’ meant only that your house had yet to benefit from the arrival and wonder of a microwave oven.
The same was also true of technology in cars: remote central locking involved dad sending one of us out in the rain to check the doors, parking sensors were bumpers or some random bloke stood behind you waving and wo’ing, lane alert was a wing mirror, ABS was a fast right foot and keyless entry still carried a custodial sentence.
But at some point in the last decade, automotive technology made the leap from function to fashion, inadvertently reviving one-upmanship amongst the reps and road warriors of our pockmarked highways in a battle that, thanks to Mr Taxman, has moved over the decades from names and numbers, power and performance to plumage, pretext and peacockery?
In the eighties, and as the son of a then company car driver, I recall growing up amidst a feverish race for status on our street, a race that started* when my dad upgraded his Mk II Cavalier LX to the latest GLS Model.
The economic world was in good shape back then and it wasn’t long before the family down the road brought home a shiny new GLSi. Not one for losing, dad responded a few months later with a special edition Commander. Next door then joined the race with the latest digital dashed Astra GTE 16v, across the road brought home a Sierra Sapphire LX Executive 16v and all this was outplayed by the underdog at the end of the street who upgraded his long mocked Orion with a bright red Cavalier Calibre Irmscher 2.0i 130 Intercooler Executive something or other, a car so grandiose that it’s boot-lid failed to accommodate the entire title of the car and so the front wings were called upon to finish the job off.
Short of begging The Dealer Principle to create one of those localized ‘Special Editions’ you used to get, dad was unable to beat Irmscher man and chose instead to introduce a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the street in the form of a Peugeot 405 Mi16. Once again the neighbours picked up on this change and, no sooner had we replaced toast with croissant, than the street was suddenly awash with number centric sushi, bratwurst and meatballs in the form of a 626 GT, two 325is and a sum topping 9000 Turbo*.
Today’s rep, no longer able to afford the BIK tax and pence per mile deficits of a high-powered company car, instead chooses to de-badge and deceive with their token Ms and AMGs which, to the untrained eye, promote a false sense of status on their 1.8ds and 180 CDIs. We all know that big wheels don’t necessarily mean big woomph, twin exhausts are so 2008 and any savvy would-be-warrior knows only too well that viper stripes on an Insignia are a big no-no.
But over the last few years, born from the post-millennium arrival of BMW’s angelic faced 5 Series, and now compelled by the introduction of DRL legislation for car manufacturers across Europe, the desire for LED lights has created a new ‘rep’resentation of status (whilst also giving manufacturers a way to increase pre and post sale profits and enhance their vanilla designs).
No LEDs on your wagon puts you at the lowest rank, closely followed by dot-based rear LEDs. For those well on their way to the dizzy heights of middle management, LED lighting ‘tubes’ will help you stand out, with complex shapes denoting rank like an LED Lapel. Audi recently took this a step further by announcing it will be phasing out their curved DLRs to make way for a series of vertical and horizontal stripes that will help identify models within its range (stand by your bed A4s there’s an A8 coming!).
Mercedes also recently announced the end of Edison in their flag-ship S-Class range, but Audi have clearly LED the way over recent years and have, for £1000+, been introducing all-LED line-ups across it’s range for some time. In fact, their move to a matrix based lighting system looks set to be the next big thing.
But aside from enabling manufacturers to introduce a very profitable optional extra, and apart from offering the consumer the automotive equivalent of a vajazzle to those stuck in the mass manufactured middle ground of motoring, is there really any advantage to it all?
I suppose LED lights are just the visible representation of the hugely dramatic evolution within automotive technology over recent years; It should also be said that such advancements have done wonders to improve safety, helping keep pedestrians off the bonnet and our cars shiny side up.
But I can’t help feel that all this driver-assisted tech is dumbing down the fun of driving, whilst also making even the most mundane of maintenance tasks a ‘dealer only’ job. Going back to the eighties, a length of wood, a lump hammer and a bit of knowledge as to where the starter motor was located was all you needed to get it going if it failed to start. Today, if your car decides to throw a sickie, you need a degree in quantum electronics and the modern day Dell equivalent of the crank handle to get the damn thing going.
Perhaps, as I charge headfirst into a mid-life crisis, I’m just bitter that all the childhood promise of futuristic driving decadence technology would bring have seemingly culminated in the modern day equivalent of a ‘Tron’ edition Cavalier, that all this technology has done little to increase a cars performance above that of an 80’s sports saloon, or even worse that I look with covetousness at the headlights on the new R8 Spyder down the road.
The Marques Man
*I’m not for one minute suggesting that my father was responsible for setting the bar with regards to the status war of the 1980s company car driver, nor am I saying he was solely to blame for the downfall of British car manufacturing during that time either.