The notion that automobiles — and particularly “luxury” automobiles — are toys speaks volumes about our form of civilization and culture. The fact that this multiply appalling suggestion can be used to sell these infernal things is one of the many points of interest.
Readers of DbC know that cars exist to sell people far more transportation equipment than they need, and that adding mark-uppable geegaws to cars has always been a core part of this indispensable corporate capitalist endeavor. DbC has also been reporting on how onboard electronics is the next great frontier in this push, and how it is making cars-first transportation even more unsafe for its supposed primary beneficiaries.
Last week in Novi, Michigan, the relevant powers that be assembled for the Telematics Detroit 2013 conference.
According to Automotive News, the show included a panel discussion in which four experts admitted that the ballyhooed arrival of the “driverless” car is exceeding unlikely, due to the inherent expense and complexity of this Rube Goldberg-squared idea.
Noteworthy in Automotive News‘ report are two quotations from the experts on this panel.
The first is a piece of unintended comedy from Andreas Mai, director for Cisco System’s automotive unit in North America:
“I would actually pay for being able to drive to Chicago in the middle of the night at 200 mph,” Mai joked.
Gosh, Herr Mai, wouldn’t that be routine, if we’d built railroads, rather than letting our capitalists dictate cars-first transportation?
The second remark is simply back-room Mafia-talk from Heri Rakouth, director of technology exploration at Delphi Corporation:
“For me, safety is the business of the government,” Rakouth said.
That’s from the mouth of somebody whose occupation is pushing “Internet connectivity and infotainment aspects” into cars. That, of course, is the practical equivalent of shoving open whiskey bottles into drivers’ laps.
[Click image for larger view in pdf format.]
This is one of my early favorites from my dig into the history of capitalist dictation of transportation policy in the United States. As we at DbC know, the general public has never been seriously included in the making of said policy, except on the margins and after the main choices have been made. Certainly, there has not been a rich, sustained debate and menu of choices offered to ordinary citizens in the area.
The exhibit at left speaks rather clearly to what has instead happened. The image is a flyer issued in October 1947 by the National Highway Users Conference via its Highway Highlights trade magazine. The National Highway Users Conference was, of course, not in the least an authentic organization of actual highway users. On the contrary, it was one of the several front groups set up by the core corporate capitalists of the automotive-industrial complex. Indeed, guess who was President of the NHUC as of October 1947? The highway-user-in-chief just then happened to be one Alfred P. Sloan!
The humor and scandal in this flyer is the obvious falseness it reveals about the NHUC. On one hand, the purpose of the leaflet is to convince ordinary schmoes that “you and everybody else are highway users.” Meanwhile, not only is it patently absurd for a supposedly democratic, purportedly bottom-up advocacy group to have to tell its own alleged members that they fit into the group in question, but the flyer itself proceeds to acknowledge that the NHUC is composed not of individual citizens, but “organizations and companies which recognize [the] truth” that it’s either cars-first transportation or barbarism.
Such shameless, self-interested demagogy has always been the real engine of the “car culture” that thinkers across the political spectrum — without ever bothering to look at the actual evidence — have attributed to the spontaneous wishes and “national character” of the American masses.
It’s enough to make a cat laugh.
I’m not saying class is everything, or that there is zero popular power in the United States. Nonetheless, it remains a point of interest how well socialized our opinion makers are in the habit of blaming everybody (and hence nobody) for arrangements that are clearly related to the inequality of wealth and power.
This a priori socialization of blame is particularly strong on the topic of cars-first transportation. Are automobiles deadly, dirty, wasteful, expensive, maybe even downright stupid? Well, what can we do? “Americans are having a love affair with this car.” Such is the routine quasi-official (non-)diagnosis, even among the purported critics.
Consider this week’s NTSB call for a nationwide ban on all cell phone use by operators of moving automobiles. DbC has pointed out how pathetic this ban is likely to be, if and when it gets implemented.
Why, pray tell, is this the case? DbC, of course, suggests it has something to do with the interests and efforts of both automobile manufacturers and cellular phone marketers. We might also point out that, even before the NTSB’s recommendation and even without anything resembling a proper explanation of the facts, something like half the U.S. population supported a total cell phone ban.
How delightful, then, that we have journalists like Rick Newman of U.S. News and World Report to put it all in perspective for us. “[N]obody,” Newman reports, “needs to worry about federal agents policing their iPhone or Blackberry.” Why not? Simple, pristine popular demand, of course:
But Americans tolerate all kinds of danger, death and even mayhem in the name of personal freedom. We insist on it, in fact, and policymakers listen.
See how it works? First you lump everybody together. Then you say we’re all the same and simply insist on killing ourselves. In the process, contradictions and capitalist interests magically cease to appear.
Remember how, massively contrary to mainstream claims, automobile ownership is actually one of the most unequally distributed of all so-called “consumer” product categories? While their apologists manufacture dogmas about how cars unite the whole society across class lines, the reality is that, for the rich, cars are luxurious toys paid for out of petty cash.
This fact is an interesting aspect of the social psychology of the overclass as it relates to the perpetuation of cars-first transportation. The main factor in that endeavor is surely institutional, a matter of corporate imperatives and the corollary pressures of mainstream politics. But the ability to tolerate and encourage that institutional momentum is certainly rooted in the monied mindset. As recent research has begun to show with precision, the rich are different — they are more personally grasping and socially oblivious than the rest of us. My guess is that this is partly because power/privilege attracts the corrupt, and also because living with great privilege tends to go to anybody’s head.
In any event, here at DbC, we consider it part of our mission to track how the overclass uses, as well as pushes, cars.
The topic arises today because DbC has just learned that Porsche is about to break ground on two Porsche Performance Centers here in the United States — one in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta. (Other PPCs already exist in Germany and England.)
What is a Porsche Performance Center? Essentially, a DisneyLand for Porsche owners. The main attraction is the Porsche test track, on which, for a fee, visitors can live out their race-car and/or auto-mountaineering fantasies:
The centerpiece of the complex will be a world-class test track and handling course, including areas where special surfaces replicate rain, ice, and snow conditions. These training sections include the Ice Hill, where a steep slope, computer-controlled water jets, and a low-friction surface will challenge even the most experienced drivers and help them improve their real-world skills. A special off-road area will combine 45-degree declines and ascents – ideal terrain for unleashing a Porsche Cayenne.
Of course, part of the idea is not just deepening Porsche owners’ brand loyalty, but also selling some Porsches:
The new West Coast location will be situated near the intersection of two major Los Angeles area traffic arteries, the 405 and 110 Freeways, is just minutes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and is basically in the heart of Southern California, Porsche’s largest market in the United States.
At LAX alone, over 59 million travelers passed through the airport in 2010. Another 15 million consumers reside within a 50-mile radius from the facility, and even more are based within a few hours travel time by car, including Orange and San Diego counties, California and major markets to the North.
“Our mission is to help everyone who loves automobiles and car culture to experience the pure joy, the art, and the science of driving,” said James Taylor, general manager, Porsche Experience Center. “Whether you want to experience the latest Porsche models like the new seventh-generation Porsche 911, upgrade your personal performance as a racer or athlete, or host a car club event or a product launch, we look forward to working with customers to create a memorable program.”
That “everyone,” of course, is hyperbole, given Porsche’s prices. The really interesting demographic is the number of capitalists who pass through LAX and reside in the area.
Meanwhile, while at the PPC, the aspiring racer/mountain scaler/athlete/product launcher can:
Come and learn about the exciting range of options available when buying a Porsche. The Personlisation Lounges allow you to sit down with an expert consultant and discuss the full range of options available when purchasing a Porsche. Uniquely to the Porsche Experience Centre you can test the more technical options in the cars when you are on your driving experience. Options on many vehicles on the driving experience fleet include the PDK gearbox and Sport Chrono Plus.
To see the more aesthetic options available you can build your dream Porsche using the Porsche Car Configurator with expert advice from our consultants. We want to show you what we can do down to the smallest detail. The only limit is your imagination. Make an appointment with your local Porsche Centre to discuss your requirements. Alternatively let us know when you are booking your driving experience or event if you are interested in a personalisation consultation session.
“Helping enthusiasts feel and connect with their vehicle’s full potential through intelligent engineering has always been a part of the Porsche philosophy,” said Detlev von Platen, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America. “Now, we are excited to turn dreams into reality for all driving enthusiasts by creating a safe, exhilarating environment for experiencing the pleasure of being in the driver’s seat.”
In other words, Porsche knows it is in the business of selling its customers way more car than can actually be used. Race cars sit in traffic jams just like 25 year-old jalopies, and draw huge tickets, license sanctions, and lawsuits, if “unleashed” on public roads. Luxury SUVs, as every maker knows, are almost never driven off-road. Hence, in order to “connect with their vehicle’s full potential,” Porsche’s privileged market needs access to playlands where speeding and hill-climbing can be done in closed, Disney-fied conditions.
The price of a Porsche Cayenne SUV, by the way? $48,200 to $107,100.
The price of one “Porsche Cayenne Driving Experience” at the English PPC? £275.00, aka $440. Lunch at the Porsche Restaurant? £30 per person.
The ultimate cost of our overseers’ special blend of greed, childishness, and eco-social heedlessness? You tell me…