Monday, April 29, 2019

Your First Car

Can you remember your first car? I certainly remember mine. A pristine, electric blue, 1975 Ford Escort. Seatbelts (barely). No airbags. No crush zones. No radio - though I quickly borrowed my brother-in-law's discarded Euro model, which played tape cassettes and had FM, though that was little use in most of 80's NZ!. Heating? Barely. A/C? That's what the manual windows are for. The massive 4 cylinder, 1300cc engine could squeeze out the speed limit of 80km/h - if you were willing to put up with the shaking!

I threw whatever money I had into the pot and my parents did the rest. Dad grinned and informed me that it was "payment for five years unpaid farm work"! The idea was that I'd be able to see them once a month by driving the 100km or so from varsity, and for the next three years I pretty much kept to that bargain.

Here it is during my first South Island trip, a couple of klicks north of Hampden, North Otago, looking across at the foothills of the Horse Range and the Kakanui Mountains.


There were'nt many kids with cars at varsity, certainly not First Year students, so it was in this year that I first heard the term, "rich prick": one still applied during our Old Boy reunions. As the year wore on, the number of old bombs in the car park steadily increased, together with mechanical knowledge forced upon people if they wanted to use the damned things. More motorcycles too, this being the age when any car less than five years old was not cheap. I've often wondered how many lives have been saved since 1984 by Rogernomics ending car tariffs, import duties and import licences, thereby making cars more affordable and steadily reducing motorcycle use?

And all of this was simply an extension of the near-mania for getting a drivers licence when we turned 15. We wanted to be independent and even borrowing the parent's car did not dent that feeling. Several of my mates got their licence on their actual birthdays. In my case it happened a couple of months later, delayed for reasons I cannot recall.

None of us had cars at that point of course but some families were lucky enough to have two so you got the oldest. I have vivid memories of a 4th Form party where my mate Albert and I did a night race in his parent's tiny, aging Fiat, pushing towards 100mph down a long straight beside other nutters from our class, including a couple on motorbikes. Within two years I'd hit "The Ton" while driving back from some tennis tournament. For that I could thank my parent's 1973 Ford Falcon, as well as another long straight road out in the countryside, and the cloak of darkness. Traffic cops were rarely seen or heard of there. Whenever I think of kids doing stupid shit I have to remember what I was like at age 16, although frankly I was a much safer driver then than in my mid-20's when I'd gained "confidence". Living far out in the boonies with the family's only car forced responsibility, so no drinking and driving and being pretty careful - aside from that tempting 5km straight.

There were also practical reasons for getting a licence. Many kids would leave school at 15 and their jobs pretty much demanded they be able to drive. A lot of farmers were grateful for having a kid who could shoot into town for some spare machinery part or some other item while they continued to work. And of course sporting events became a lot easier for parents when they no longer had to drive the spawn to them.

These memories have been sparked by two things. First, my eldest son just got his first car. Second was this recent article: US Love Affair With Cars Nearly Finished. It points out a problem with new car sales:
J.D. Power estimates that Gen Zers will purchase about 120,000 fewer new vehicles this year compared with millennials in 2004, when they were the new generation of drivers—or 488,198 vehicles versus 607,329 then.

Cost is having an impact, mainly because car companies in the US seem to be focusing on SUV's, targeted at Boomers and others enjoying the wealth of the stock market and pensions. SUV prices are over $US 30,000 and insurance costs are also rising.

Of course I have to laugh a bit at all that. As I described earlier - and I'm sure NZ reader's experiences will be the same - getting a new car in NZ used to be something that might happen to you in Middle Age. In fact I did not get my first new car until I landed in the USA, where the combination of low deposit and low interest financing made it an easy choice.
Millennials and Generation Z saw what happened in the the Great Financial crisis and the first few years of the rebound. They saw their parents arguing over debt in fear of losing their house. They do not want to fall into the same trap.
Used cars? The horror! Bah humbug and "wah" for US Millennials and Gen Z's: they can live as we did for a decade or two.

In my son's case he got a 2008 Toyota Camry with 120,000k on the clock. Six cylinders to easily push it to 160km/h, if desired. Smooth to drive. Cruise control. Radio. Heating - and A/C!!! Crush zones. Airbags. And unlike my Escort, it's pretty much certain to get to 200,000 or even 300,000 klicks before needing any serious work. It also cost about 1/4 of what my old Escort did in inflation-adjusted dollars. Free enterprise at its best. I would not want my Ford Escort back.

But while the car side has progressed in all ways, getting the licence to use it has become far more painful. You have to be 16 now to sit the written test. Then there's a year of "Learner" driving, with me or Beloved Wife in the passenger seat. A second driving test finally passed has then meant a year of "Restricted" driving, which means passengers can be carried only if there is another licenced driver in the car, and they still have to be in the front passenger seat. Comments in that US article point to similar issues there.

But there are other factors too. My son did not even bother sitting the written test until he was 18, then stretched the learners stage by almost two years through sheer inertia/laziness, and this too seems to be what's happening in the USA:
Whereas a driver’s license once was a symbol of freedom, teenagers are reaching their driving age at a time when most have access to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to shuttle them around town. At the same time, social media and video chat let them hang out with friends without actually leaving the house.
...
“That freedom of getting your own wheels and a license—and that being the most important thing in life—is gone,” said Brent Wall, owner of All Star Driver Education in Michigan, a chain of drivers’-ed schools. He said the average age of students in his class is rising. “It used to be the day they turned 14 years and eight months, everybody was lining up at the door. Now I’m starting to see more 15- and 16-year-olds in class.” He frequently hears from parents that they’re the ones pushing their children to enroll.
Yep! All of that certainly was our experience with No. 1 son, and it's even worse with the younger siblings. At this rate they'll be in their early 20's before they're driving as I was when I was 15. And it is a pain when it comes to family logistics.

The article finishes on a typical Boomer gloom note:
When they reach their 20s, more are moving to big cities with mass transit, where owning a car is neither necessary nor practical.
...
The auto industry will soon not look like what it does today. Cars will be smaller, lighter, electric, and self-driving. Boomers will be gone. Those living in big cities will not need to own a car at all, and most won't.
 
Boomers are the primary force keeping the current auto trends alive. Demographically-speaking, it won't last.
We'll see about that. There's always been a bit of a hatefest against cars by "city planners" because they can't be controlled the way trains and buses can be, and I've been hearing this stuff about the "youf" moving to big cities with mass transit for two decades now: the usual poorly researched MSM crap. Turns out that the opposite is the case::
In fact, as a new Brookings study shows, millennials are not moving en masse to metros with dense big cities, but away from them. According to demographer Bill Frey, the 2013–2017 American Community Survey shows that New York now suffers the largest net annual outmigration of post-college millennials (ages 25–34) of any metro area—some 38,000 annually—followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego. New York’s losses are 75 percent higher than during the previous five-year period. 
By contrast, the biggest winner is Houston, a metro area that many planners and urban theorists regard with contempt. The Bayou City gained nearly 15,000 millennials net last year, while other big gainers included Dallas–Fort Worth and Austin, which gained 12,700 and 9,000, respectively.
I hear the same crap about Millennials and Gen Z with regard to detached suburban homes: that they love living in downtown apartments. More grist to city planners naturally, but again the stats don't support that:.
Perhaps even more significant has been the geographic shift within metro areas. The media frequently has exaggerated millennial growth in the urban cores. In reality, nearly 80 percent of millennial population growth since 2010 has been in the suburbs.
As they can afford to, these generations move to detached housing. As they can afford to, they'll take up cars more, including new cars.

Considering what a pain city driving is, I'd be more than happy to hand over to a self-driving car now. But that doesn't help trains and buses much. We'd still be better to plan for cars than mass transit.

And on the open road, which will still be necessary for travelling, will humans dump that feeling of freedom? I suspect they'll tell the AI to take a break and then grab the controls to have some fun.

10 comments:

pdm said...

1964 Grey Hillman Imp for me purchased in 1966. No radio and no heater.

Anonymous said...

First car was a 1958 Vanguard, it was much older than what my peers had at the time, but then again, they had supportive parents. No radio, but it did have a crank handle that came in useful ocassonally.
I moved on to motorcycles after that first car, as they were cheaper and more fun.

Oddball

pdm said...

Oddball I have memories of cranking the car to start it from when I was a kid. We had a 1928 Dodge which had to be cranked regularly - which usually involved a lot of swear words to make it start. A long time ago as I turned 10 just after it was changed for a brand new Hillman Minx in February 1956.

Andrei said...

...getting the licence to use it has become far more painful. You have to be 16 now to sit the written test. Then there's a year of "Learner" driving, with me or Beloved Wife in the passenger seat. A second driving test finally passed has then meant a year of "Restricted" driving, which means passengers can be carried only if there is another licenced driver in the car, and they still have to be in the front passenger seat.

Which is exactly the wrong way to go about improving driving skills in the general population

If you look at all the top drivers in the world today - They all started young!

Which isn't surprising - concert pianists also started playing the piano young, virtuouso pianists do not take up the piano in their twenties but before they are ten. People's time of learning is when their young that's when the skills of later life are developed and it is a shame that driving is not considered an essential life skill, like reading is

But the coorrelation between early starting and highly skilled driving is so strong That every single F1 driver in the world today was racing go-karts by the time they were 8 years old or so

I would love to know how many of those responsible for serious and fatal accidents in New Zealand actually have a valid license to begin with and I'm prepared to bet a substantial sum that a large percentage don't.

Anonymous said...

A second hand 1972 Datsun 1200 which was ‘upgraded’ to a 1970 spitfire by the time I arrived at uni.

Paranormal

The Veteran said...

Hmmmm ... my first was Berkley Sports SA322 made in England and exported out here. You've probably never heard of it as only 163 were produced. It was a sharp looking two door roadster. Great for pulling birds. That was as good as it got. 322cc transverse two stroke twin, air-cooled engine and the entire body was fiber-glass. You were goneburger in any sort of crash and leaning against it was not to be encouraged.

But, in the immortal words of Cpl Jones .... thems wuz good times.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

1955 Ford Anglia. Purchased in 1965.

pdm said...

Interesting Adolfbecause our Hillman Imp got wiped out by an idiot coming around a corner in the Mamakus sideways on our honeymoon. We went about a year without a car, buying a house using the insurance proceeds as a depost.

Our next car bought some time in mid 1971 was a 1957 Ford Anglia 100E - those vacuum wipers were a pain in the arse.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

pdm

I cut a hole in the floor between the clutch and brake pedals and brought a plastic hose in from a 'Nilverm' bottle cut into a funnel, mounted behind the radiator. Worked a treat. I was working on a farm in Rerewhakaaitu in mid winter. 12 consecutive days with 28 degrees of frost. The ground was still frozen solid at midday.

Lord Egbut Nobacon said...

You haven't quite got the hang of being a baby boomer in 1960's NZ have you chunter?

'36 Oldsmobile
'36 Dodge
'39 Ford Mercury
'48 Ford Mercury

All before 1968.

Glad you you could drive into town to help out the local farmers while living in 1970's NZ "boonies"


Best of luck driving a '73 Falcon at 100mph. It's theoretical speed even when new was 99mph. Anyone who tried drive the wedge at night at that speed deserves to be committed. You are an information collector and collator and no doubt you will resurrect yourself on other blogs as....who knows.