Are ‘petrol heads’ a dying breed? I think we might be. In the face of economic constraints, cultural shifts and an explosion of electronic technologies, being a car enthusiast these days seems to be very much a minority interest.
Do you remember when all the talk at teenage parties, or in the pub, was of somebody’s latest ‘wheels’? Nowadays it’s more likely to revolve around the latest mobile phone app or video game release. How many people under 30 do you know that even own a decent set of spanners?
It’s always been expensive for young people to run cars, but spiralling insurance costs in recent times have made the economic burden unbearable for all but the most fanatical. As students in the seventies, we used to joke about ‘living on baked beans’ in order to buy some grippier tyres or a hot new camshaft. Insurance could cost a quarter of the car’s value; nowadays it’s more likely that the car costs a quarter of the insurance premium! If cars are unaffordable, they become irrelevant as people find alternative sources of transport and recreation.
Generation Y, as the ‘trans-millennial’ generation has been labelled, has grown up in an age with a host of electronic technologies providing instant entertainment and communication at an affordable price. This means that messing about with mechanical devices, for most of them, never progresses beyond bicycles. In fact the importance attached to ‘connectivity’ and electronic media by many people means that driving just gets in the way: is this why so many flout the mobile phone laws?
Fuelled by concerns over climate change, the education system has inculcated in an entire generation the belief that vehicles are a major part of the problem, and therefore that cars should be used as little as possible and driven as slowly as possible. Little wonder then, that so few in that generation have any passion for a sweet sounding engine, or the enthusiasm and acquired skill to take a consecutive series of bends with aplomb.
Increasingly crowded roads present a further barrier to enjoyment, as does the growing complexity of cars; it’s much easier to ‘bond’ with a vehicle when you can tackle all the routine maintenance with a few tools and a suitable manual. As the demands for greater vehicle efficiency have pushed manufacturers to adopt increasingly sophisticated technologies, the level of training required to service them has outgrown the abilities of most ‘home mechanics’.
You may think these are the ‘rose tinted’ views of an incurable nostalgic, convinced that ‘it was better in my day’, so let me praise my colleagues at Market Engineering, many of whom are distinctly unrepresentative of this trend and are clearly twenty first century petrol heads through and through. It may be less fashionable, and more difficult, nowadays but petrol heads are still around and still committed to enjoying their cars. You just have to look a bit harder to find them.