Commentary: Musings On A Changing Automotive Landscape

The future seems so bright. 

Maybe my retinas are getting challenged by direct sunlight. Who knows?

The first twenty years in this business (the last ten as V&R) has seen some astounding revolutions and evolutions. The automobile is a work of art that has gone through so much that it is still recognizable as a self-propelled vehicle. 

Self-propelled? That is essentially what an automobile should be. A vehicle that is under its own power tasked to take people from one point to another.

If you read that carefully, there are a lot of considerations given to that definition. 

First off, we are finding that battery-propulsion is returning to public favor after 110 years. Mainstream automakers are now pushing towards battery-electric vehicles as they have nothing else to lose. Let’s not forget to nod at the start-ups that are disturbing the industry by goading the legacy automakers to pivot towards selling mostly electrified vehicles by the next decade. 

We have autonomous driving. Rather, self-driving vehicles. As the technology improves with the infrastructure, the idea of letting go of the wheel and letting your vehicle take you where you need to go is something that could become a reality in a decade or so. 

Between electrification and autonomy, the automobile continue to fascinate us into the future. These are not towards fulfilling the scenes from “The Jetsons” with flying cars and building skyward. We’re remaining down to Earth, as far as I can see. 

However, I am skeptical. Maybe I’m stuck in an era where the internal combustion engine reigned supreme. Yet, the technology managing these powerplants have improved with proper computerization, emissions and energy conservation. 

Perhaps I am stuck with the idea of what an automobile should be. The design should be recognizable. The operation simple. The feedback measurable. 

I see this through my own lens of history. What started out was an extremely long 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight that overheated in the summer and started to eat into my patience until its untimely death, turned into working with some of the most headline worthy vehicles on sale today. In-between were a hodgepodge of experiences that yielded mixed results and sore bank accounts. 

That is why I love automotive history. That is also made me concentrate on a single subject matter that I felt at home with. That’s why I enjoy reviewing the latest and greatest vehicles around to tell their stories. 

Being at Back To The 80s this year brought me halfway home. That particular show would yield a slew of vehicles that I have not seen in decades into a fully realized and running examples. That was the decade that I discovered my love for driving and yearned for something amazing to fulfill that want of getting behind the wheel. 

I was proud to sponsor that show through V&R. It was perfect situation to celebrate the accomplishments of this website. 

Why do I wince when someone buys a Tesla Model 3? Or, place a reservation for a Ford F-150 Lightning? Do I trust battery-electric vehicles? Should I wish those of you who have done either well, and hope you have a charging infrastructure available for your EV?

Yes, the future is electric. My professional life tells me so. I’m just a centimeter closer to buying into the hype. I’m still concerned that the grid, the public infrastructure, and owners of multi-dwelling units are “there,” yet. 

As for autonomous driving, I’m not ready for it. Perhaps when it is improved and a proven technology to use. 

However, I will still celebrate the beauty of the internal combustion engine. I celebrate hybrids and plug-in hybrids, too. It is also no longer just sedans and coupes I embrace in my work. The SUV and pickup truck are kings and queens of the consumer. It took several years, I have embraced them, too. 

These thoughts seem scrambled. Not my usual musings that are intertwined with proper storytelling and organization. However, I needed to put them down into words. 

You may agree or disagree. You could troll all you want by saying something random that would score you points. I’ve dealt with enough emotional health issues to know to attempt to be tolerant of certain social media engagement. 

Now, I look to my future. I’m 57. Luckily, I have great colleagues that are still putting in superior work in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. I should never complain about being too old. 

That is, until I run into a bunch of teenagers who want to do what I’m doing, but don’t want to put in the work. Newsflash, young people, you can’t do this work without a working knowledge of this industry, how these vehicles work, what goes into each of them – from engineering to marketing to retailing to ownership. 

Last, but not least, get off my lawn. Thank you.

All photos by Randy Stern

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