May 2 2020
America, and by extension, Canada, is a nation of car lovers. To see the proof of that, all you have to do is sit by your TV and count the number of automotive commercials on television. Irrespective of where you might be on any given night in North America, you will be stunned, once you become aware of it, by the amount of money being spent, every day, on advertising vehicle sales in every area of both Canada and the USA.
in recent years, truck sales have grown even more quickly than car sales. That, from my viewpoint at least, is astonishing. When I first came to Canada, a very long time ago now, car sales were the automotive industry. Station wagons were popular for families, and there was no such thing as a minivan or an SUV. City and town dwellers everywhere drove American sedans or the occasional coupe—there was no foreign competition, except perhaps for Volkswagen Beetles and buses—and Detroit, Michigan, which had just started to churn out sophisticated muscle cars, was the automotive capital of the world. The Japanese Invasion hadn’t really begun yet, Nissan was still called Datsun, and the Honda Civic, an alien-looking, boxy little thing, was perceived as some kind of Mickey-Mouse joke.
The rural marketplace, on the other hand, was the domain of the half-ton truck. Every rural worker in the country drove a half-ton. It was the workhorse of the entire country, apart from “big” rigs and multi-axle haulers. No matter what your personal preference in brand names might be, the half-ton was everywhere.
Now it’s a surprise to see one anywhere. They have practically vanished, made obsolete by what I think of as the Juggernauts—those gigantic, almost identical behemoths produced in such astounding numbers by truck manufacturers everywhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the automotive market, just as it has every other industry, and sales have dropped in consequence, but the Juggernauts are still out there, and one of these days they’re going to start asserting themselves again. But a couple of months ago, before the arrival of this latest Coronavirus, I used to dread coming out of a store and returning to my parked car to discover that it has been hemmed in on either side by a huge pair of high-wheeled leviathans that simply defy you to back safely out of a parking space between them that was too narrow in the first place. Good luck with that. No one knows your vehicle is hidden in there, no one can see it or you, and no one expects a ludicrously small-looking (but yet normal) car to back out from between the two giant cliffs formed by the square ends of the vehicles masking it from sight.
The most astonishing thing I’m aware of in vehicle sales today, though, is the seemingly inexhaustible reserves of uncomplaining gullibility that people show in deference to Automotive Marketers, swallowing the bait those people offer so cynically.
For years now, sales spiels have centred upon cash-back bonuses. Huge numbers of people willingly subscribe to the marketing idea that we can be conned into spending money through the prospect of getting cash back afterwards. That supposedly “free” benefit of receiving a “return” on your purchases, is utter nonsense. Everyone knows, or ought to, by now, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And yet all the automotive companies use it and it obviously works. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing it, and they certainly would not have been doing it for as long as they have.
If they really wanted to be as solicitous and generous as they profess to be, they would simply lower the price of each vehicle, right on the showroom floor, and let the numbers speak for themselves. For some reason, though, that style of sales technique won’t fly, and one has to wonder why. Might it be because the industry can’t make as much profit by being truthful about what they are offering? That is the truth, but most people can’t, or won’t see it. If they did, they would stop responding to ads that promise them a rebate on what they haven’t spent yet. And if that happened, the industry would quickly ditch the whole idea of “cash back” bonuses.
The truth, of course, is that the automotive companies finance the entire ticket price of the vehicles they sell, and while they might “give you back” up to $8,000 or more on “selected purchases,” they then go ahead and charge you hefty interest rates on that “cash-back” amount, no matter how much it is, for the entire duration of your financing contract. So a $10,000 “rebate” on a 60-month contract means you’ll be paying monthly interest on that cash-back $10,000, on top of your “normal” payment, for the next five years.
Silver lining: according to Internet analysts, (and dreamers,) and despite the current debilitating effects of the viral pandemic, all of that is going to change soon and we are witnessing the last death-throes of a dying industry. Thus say the Pundits. The far-too-volatile fluctuations of the petroleum industry, combined with the advent of computer-driven, electric and electronic cars, will eventually abolish the need for gasoline. The increasing sensitivity of driverless cars will reduce the accident rate to the point where auto insurance, as we know it, will become unnecessary, preventing long lawsuits; and the proliferation of companies like Uber will mean that the next generation of consumers won’t even think about learning to drive. They’ll pay for use as they go, just as they do already with cell phone data. And thus, abandoned parking lots will turn green again, dedicated to other uses. And the band plays on…
The times, they are a-changing, too rapidly for most people my age, but then, I find the idea of a world without personally-owned and operated vehicles to be unimaginable, despite the fact that it would be a good thing on every level.