- Introduction: Vehicles provide transformational superpowers.
- A Car As The Ultimate Tool: Personal Identity and Fulfillment.
- The Key ‘Super Powers’:
- Superpower Extensions: The Quest for More.
- Why The Extensions?
- People Moving.
- ‘Sporty’ driving.
- Towing & Hauling.
- Vehicle Types:
- ‘Regular’ Car.
- City Car.
- Sports Car
- SUV and Off-roaders.
- Rent vs Buy.
This content is primarily background reference for other explorations on how, and why, we use and choose motor vehicles, and how motor vehicles have transformed both society, and the individuals that make up society.
It is widely acknowledged that transition from horses motor vehicles transformed the development of cities and the evolution of society in the 20th century. However, society is a collection of individuals, and society is transformed only when the individuals within society are transformed. In the end, transformation resulted from the additional capabilities motor vehicles gave individuals. “Superpowers” in that they were capabilities beyond what individuals had before the automobile.
Using a car, I can visit a shopping centre 7km away, buy milk and be home all within 20 minutes, a feat that was impossible before the automobile. Motor vehicles extend where humans are capable of quickly and conveniently travelling to, and what they can easily transport with them. Possessing a “superpowers” can change how we feel, even when we are not using the superpower. A person can feel empowered by owning a vehicle with great off road abilities, even if they rarely drive off road.
It will be interesting to see the changes as a result of next transitions, from internal combustion engine to EVs, and then to self driving cars. These changes will impact society, renewable infrastructure, and the design of homes, cities and where we locate them in the future.
A Car As The Ultimate Tool: Personal Identity, and Fulfillment.
Motor Vehicles and the concept of a Tool.
Cars bring people joy. Why? My theory is that cars are the ultimate ‘tool’, however this requires explaining exactly what I mean by ‘tool’. OK, these days ‘tool’ can be a derogatory term for a person as in: “I went to the store today and I saw they had a tool section. I just had to look, and sure enough there were several there, all standing around looking lustfully at products that they don’t need”.
But seriously, this demonstrates meanings change. What is a ‘tool’? Adopting and using tools is considered a key characteristic of being human. With tools we can have capabilities beyond those provided by our physiology. Early humans used tools to enable them increase their abilities to hunt, to build homes, and to prepare food. The dictionary makes specific reference to ‘a handheld device that aids in the accomplishment of a task’, but when visiting the ‘garden tools’ section, it can be seen that even a ride on mower, can be classified as a tool, despite not being handheld. Most people would also agree that even desktop computers can be regarded as tools, or at least an ‘office tool’, but we don’t normally think of a car as tool. This suggests the idea of a tool already extends beyond handheld.
The definition I choose to work with is:
tool: a device that aids in accomplishing a task.
Tools Extend Human Abilities.
Tools extend the capabilities of the person with the tool. The owner of a tool has extended capabilities. Just as superheros Batman and Ironman gain extra powers through their suits and accessories, a person with a motor vehicle is capable of amazing feats.
The more tasks a motor vehicle can accomplish, the more tasks the owner or driver can accomplish. The ability to accomplish these tasks allows people to see themselves differently, and thus changes their sense of self and how they are perceived by others. The type of car a person owns can become part of their identity, and this is even without getting into the concept of brand identity.
It has become part of human to have tools that can enable accomplishing many tasks. Car owners can gain the abilities, and those abilities become part of them, even if the need to use those abilities arises only rarely, or even never. Possessing tools changes a persons identity to a person enable people to do more than before. From someone who can’t tackle a task, to someone who can tackle that task. Use of tools is what has enabled humans to be so successful as a species, and as a key to success as a species, we have evolved to feel rewarded and fulfilled, by the capabilities our tools provide and scope of tasks they allow us to accomplish.
The Key ‘Super Powers’
Local Transport: The Basic Motor Vehicle ‘Superpower’.
Almost everyone has a concept of a local area, an area within which they frequently travel. The bounds of that area are impacted by the distance they travel for work or education, but where family live, and how far they need to travel for groceries and routine shopping or res, but the bounds are also impacted by capabilities and access to ‘car’.
Society has now evolved to the point where accessing what is a normal ‘local area’ may require access to a ‘car’, and most ‘cars’ spend the majority of their annual distance travelled providing local transport for family members.
From statistics on annual travel, for most vehicles, this ‘local transport’ typically comprises trips of under two hours driving to the destination, for a distance of 37 miles or 60km based on US data for average distance (13,500 miles or 22,000km annually). However given many people travel different distances on weekends than during the week, and there are other variations, actually ‘daily use’ can vary and could be in the range of up to 120 miles or 200 km. For most people, travel of distance beyond 200km or 120 miles would be considered more likely a ‘road trip’ rather than ‘local transport’.
A ‘car’ can be used for travel within a persons local area.
For almost everyone in developed societies, access to a ‘car’ improves and extends their ability to travel locally. In fact, the enhanced ability for local travel provided by motor vehicles has been a major force in transforming where people live, and is credited with giving birth to the suburbs of todays cities.
The use of this ‘superpower’ is not even limited to the just over half the world population living in cities, as local travel requirements are quite similar for most people who live outside cities, and in fact almost everyone in the developed world lives in a location where it is possible for children to commute to schools, means that almost all housing ins in some form of ‘local area’.
Now a necessity for much of modern life, the ‘local transport’ capability provided by a car becomes almost mandatory for people unless their personal ‘local area’:
- Is small in size and can be accessed without the use of any form of motor vehicle.
- Can be accessed to a sufficient degree by public transport alone.
- Is ill-defined due to their remote location.
For much of the 20th century, most families in developed countries have lived in areas where a car is considered an essential part of family life.
While many individuals can access their local area by using taxis, ride sharing services or public transport, but there still remains an additional level of independence from a person having their own car, and makes results in the ‘rent’ option being less attractive the more every day these tasks become.
The Minimum Requirements.
The requirements for this definition of ‘everyday’ use are:
- Have range sufficient to be able to travel up to 200km/120miles.
- Be capable of carrying the normal upper limit number of passengers.
- Be capable of carrying any bags, shopping or other items regularly transported.
- Be able to sustain around 37miles/60km average day travel with standard maintenance and refuelling.
Road Trip Capability: The Reference Motor Vehicle ‘Superpower’.
The ability to complete ‘long distance road trips‘, as proved by Bertha Benz, was critical from the outset to the acceptance of the motor vehicle as a means of transport. Even if this ‘superpower’ rarely used, it seems central to our evaluation of cars. A vehicle than cannot complete ‘road trips’, fails to gives the driver the superpower to go ‘wherever the road can take you’. While it is the ‘local transport’ capability that is used most often and has transformed urban life, it is the romance of the road trip capability that most often is most considered when selecting a motor vehicle.
A road trip could involve travel for any number of days, driving any distance of up to 1,000 km or 600 miles, on any ‘driving day’ during the road trip. Yes, some people set even longer distance targets for some days, but most people would normal stay within these limits. In theory, drivers should stop for a rest every 2 hours, which, on a German autobahn could be as much as 400km (250 miles) of driving, but in most cases is likely to be two hours at 130km/h or 260km (160 miles) as even on the autobahn, spending 2 hours at an average of 130km/hr (80mph) is more certain that getting a free run at 200 km/h.
In reality most people rarely do road trips. Some people have second homes, friends or family they visit often, resulting in frequent road trips, but for most people, road trips are limited to their holidays, or less frequent visits to other cities.
The result is that most people could in theory, normally do without and hire a vehicle capable of road trips for the occasions one is needed. In practice, while this can make sense for people who live in inner city environments, most people who own any car will want at least one car they own to be capable of ‘road trips’. What is the point of owning a car if does not bestow the ‘reference superpower’?
Why Have Rarely Used Superpowers?
Have you ever, without any real advance planning, just decided ‘lets go’ and headed off for one or more nights away from home? The freedom to ‘just go’ and head off on a ‘road trip’, is part of the appeal of owning a car. I would define a ‘road trip’ as any trip where you drive to a destination where you stay one or more nights ‘away from home’. In practice, it is rare that such journeys are spontaneous, but having that ability to go on such a trip at any time, even if it rarely happens, is still of value. Capabilities that are rarely utilised, and in some cases never utilised, can still be special. Many owners of SUVs may value the ability of their vehicle to go off road, and to handle terrain beyond that which they have ever encountered, just as many owners of cars such as Ferrari value top speed of their car and ultimate cornering ability, even if they never fully utilise those capabilities. A market survey of customer use of these features may find they are rarely used, but still highly valued. The ability to go on a road trip is, for many people, in the same category. A road trip capable vehicle provides people with the ‘road trip’ superpower, which is with them whether they are on a road trip or not.
Some cars are not considered for road trips, but except in special circumstances, such cars are usually less valued.
The Minimum Requirements.
- Be capable of traveling up to 1,000km or 600 miles per day.
- Be capable of freeway speeds.
- Provide comfort for multiple blocks of two hours per block of travel time per day.
Superpower Extensions: The Quest For More.
For some people the most common superpowers of ‘local transport’ and ‘road trips’ are insufficient without extension to cover some specific requirement. They may need more seats, to carry or tow specific cargo, or to regularly access more difficult terrain, but for most people, at least some of the extension of the basic superpowers is because it just feels good to have ‘better superpowers’.
More Power! Why does kW or Horsepower matter?
How much of the automobile ‘superpower’ does a vehicle provide? There is a measure of power. Two key specifications for any vehicle are the amount of ‘power’ and the resulting acceleration.
For perspective, back in the 1950s and 1960s, many vehicles had difficulty climbing steep sections of roadway that would be encountered on some road trips. Many vehicles would overheat on such steep climbs and need to pull to the roadside and allow the engine to cool. However, at that time engines were less powerful. In 1955 a Ferrari 500 Mondial (the first 1955 Ferrari my search found) had 127 kW or 170 bhp. The 1955 Corvette had just introduced a new more powerful V8 with 145 kW/195 bhp. Now in 2021, a Toyota Corolla comes with either an engine matching the 1955 Ferrari for power or as a hybrid with extra power from an electric engine, and the 2021 Corvette has up to 369 kW / 495 horsepower. Those long steep main roads that were encountered on road trips? They have been removed as they resulted in too much fuel consumption. Motor vehicles today have far more power than ever, and in all but some towing situations, need less power than ever.
Now in 2021, for most road trips, with speed limits bringing all vehicles down to a common limit, a 15 year old white van can travel at the same average speed as a Porsche 911. In fact, may be less likely to attract a ticket for going 1 or 2 mph over the limit. So why do we still care so much about power? Because it makes up feel good. There are moments when we feel the exhilaration of the extra acceleration, but I suggest that the greatest value is that all the time, we know that power is there. In a 911, we have a greater degree of superpower than we would in the white van.
There is a ‘default’ that a modern motor vehicle has 5 seats. I sometimes wonder if the modern family of typically less than 3 children has been influenced just a little by this ‘normal’. Cars with more than 5 seats are often suggested to be for large families, because 5 seats can transport a family with up to 3 children. However, 2 seater cars are not recommended to people without children, as it is assumed people may want to bring friends. Do people with two children never have more than 2 friends anymore? For what ever reason, the ability to carry extra people, on the basis that unless there are more than 3 children more than 5 seats , even though cars with more than 2 seats are not suggested to be for people with children. The result is that the ability to carry more people, while an extension of the ‘superpower’ of being able to transport more people, rarely gives the owner that proud feeling associated with other extension superpowers. Perhaps because extra seats most translates into the ability to carry extra people for the more mundane ‘local transport’ role, as there is rarely sufficient space for more than 5 people and their luggage for a road trip.
Apart from power and acceleration, there is ‘sports car’ handling, the ability to drive quickly on twisty roads and travel at high speeds provides the driver with the feeling having greater amounts of the ‘superpower’ that comes from being a driver.
Standard vehicles can all drive at least just a little beyond paved roads. But that ability can be extended significantly by a vehicle such as Unimog, but at the cost of compromising other uses. The Mercedes G Wagen or Land Rover Defender can also extend where they can go off road, and without much compromise when on road at all. Then there are a range of vehicles such as the Rav4, that although not even necessarily four wheel drive, provide some level confidence the vehicle has some off road capability. Again, for most people, the feeling of having an extended superpower goes far beyond the degree they will ever use that superpower.
Towing & Hauling.
Even a city car can haul the weeks groceries. Then there are cars that can transport the entire family together with luggage. Larger vehicles may be needed to be able to bring home furniture and appliance purchases, or have room for the dog. Most people may rarely transport items too large ? Or the dog? There are packages that fit inside regular cars, and then those that require an SUV, and ultimately, those that require a pickup truck.
Having some of these ‘superpowers’ has become part of everyday life. Life in many environments is now inconvenient or even difficult without. Simple things such as grocery shopping for a family, can be difficult without a motor vehicle. Other ‘superpowers’ make us feel good because having the ‘tool’ that enables the additional abilities, even if we rarely actually use those abilities.
the power, means we always have that power even if we rarely use the power. We may rarely travel long distances, but if we have a car with that enables us to just head out on a long trip whenever the need arises, we are empowered. Many people who own an off road capable car may venture off road very rarely and perhaps even never, but with an off road capable car they can if the opportunity does arise. People who own a supercar may never take it to a racetrack or get to experience the maximum speed due to speed limits, but they have the power even if they never use it. In practice, some owners experience only the awe at the specifications, rather than the capabilities in practice.
The superpowers a motor vehicle can provide include:
Off road adventures and Camping.
In theory, any SUV allows tackling some terrain a little more challenging than a paved road, although in some cases, the implied capability may not be real. Then there are off-road capable SUVs and pickups that enable the driver to go far more places.
- ‘Normal’ Car: Combined City and Road Vehicle.
- The ‘City Car’.
- Sports Cars and Supercars: From Powers to Superpowers.
- SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle): A car, but with extra powers.
- Pickup Trucks: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of vehicles. A tool that can do as much as possible.
‘Normal Car’: Local Transport and Road Trip Vehicle.
The ‘normal’ car began with the ability to tackle road trips. When the first cars arrived, local areas were not formed on the basis of motor vehicles, and everyone had lifestyle that didn’t require regular use of a car. The car allowed travel beyond what were initially very compact local areas, but the initial road trips capacity was nothing like today either. Like a bootstrap process, as cars gained popularity, people were able to extended their local areas, and the potential distance for a road trip also grew.
Today the road trip capacity may be rarely called upon, but it has been part of what defined cars from the very beginning. Even if the addition ability ability to go on a road trip is rarely called upon, that ability can change how a person feels. Yes, if a person owns a ‘city car’, they could hire a ‘road trip car’ when they need one, but it is not the same as having the ability to go on a road trip at any time without any advance planning.
A family with two cars may designate one car as the road trip car, and that car will normally be considered the ‘best car’, even if the ‘daily use only’ car is actually used more often because the ‘daily use car’ is more economical and is ‘all that is needed’ most of the time.
A friend was saying how they have two cars, and they were thinking that while the ‘main car’ needs to be a ‘trip car’ as well as a city car, the other car need only be a ‘city car’ and was less important. But which car would they use most? The answer was the ‘city car’, despite that it was expected this car would be ‘less important’. The reality is the more important car is more important, not because it is used more, but because it that car that determines the abilities of the owners.
The ‘City Car’.
Simplistically, a ‘city car’ is car that is designed for urban or town ‘everyday’ use, and no more. This is a vehicle that forgoes that original key power to compete road trips. Requirements for road trips, such as interior and or luggage space, suitability for longer distances of highway driving, or range limits the vehicles suitability for road trips. Given that for most people, ‘local transport’ constitutes how they use a vehicle day after day, the idea of specialist ‘local transport’ vehicle seems to make sense. However, in terms of human nature, unless the owner of such a vehicle also has a ‘normal car’, it can leave people feeling less fulfilled than driving a car with less abilities. There have even been numerous attempts to market luxurious city cars, but there has been extremely limited success for anything beyond the budget city car, as most people feel a less capable car must be less expensive, even it is luxurious. The advantage of a ‘city car’ is that it can be smaller and easier to park, consume less fuel and be less expensive to own.
Sports Cars and Supercars: From Powers to Superpowers.
Sports cars are often very impractical, and supercars even less practical. The tasks they give their owners the ability to tackle can also be completely impractical, yet they still can provide the owners the feeling of having super powers:
- Outstanding Acceleration.
- High Top Speed.
- High Cornering Speeds.
Muscle cars deliver the practicality of ‘normal cars’, together with outstanding acceleration and high top speeds of sports cars. In practice, only sports car ability in common use is the ability to accelerate from traffic lights, so the fact that increased bulk and weight required to be practical results in less impressive cornering speeds can be an acceptable compromise. As some capabilities are only revealed through specifications, abilities cornering abilities with less well known specifications become less important anyway.
SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle): The normal car, but with extra powers.
SUVs have become more popular as more people realise that these vehicles have more useful extended abilities than sports cars.
Pickup Trucks: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of vehicles. A tool that can do as much as possible.
Pickup trucks try to add every possible practical ability. While, like muscle cars, pickup trucks cannot go around corners as well as a supercar, they can be the the ultimate in terms of off road ability, haulage, and towing.
The trend as ‘technology wealth’ per capita increases, is towards superpowers over and beyond those the original model T contemplated. There is some degree of additional superpowers just to make us feel better, but also a trend to looking for ways further superpowers can bring real world benefits. (still being updated, see updates for progress).