gen-x chronicles

the new malaise era of cars, coming soon


Be prepared to embrace the slow.

I was reading the latest news about chip shortages in the car industry in the article Chip Shortage Lambasts Europe, Supply Chains Confront New Problems. One commenter said this:

I hereby declare this to be the New Malaise Era.

Cars may not suck anymore, but the whole process of building them and buying them has become a nightmare.

If you're not familiar with the Malaise Era of cars, the malaise-iest of the malaise is unquestionably the Ford Granada.

I actually owned 2 of these cars in my teens. Never drove them. Just bought them to tinker around with before having them hauled off. Both cars had a total price of $300. I am not joking. One car was $200, a '75, and the other $100, a '79 with the square headlights. In the '90s, that's what these cars were worth.

The Granada was slow (even with a V8), only had 2 gauges (speedometer and fuel) with the rest being "idiot lights" and was bland in a bad way.

Some bland cars are charming. The '75 Buick Regal for example has actual character and thoughtful design. Oh, it still sucked, no question about that. Underpowered, with vinyl and plastic everywhere on the inside. But even so, it was still lovable. Not the Granada. That thing... yuck.

What could a New Malaise Era car be like?

This is where things may get really interesting.

The government of the United States would have to agree to allow car manufacturers to build cars without touchscreens in them, even if only temporarily. Why? That's a computer, and a computer needs a chip, so it has to go.

A New Malaise Era car would have no touchscreen, analog gauges only, manual crank windows, plain vinyl seats with no heating nor cooling, manual transmission or old-design 4/5 speed automatic, a basic AM/FM radio (or no radio), a very stripped down "de-tech'd" engine that's purposely not as powerful to achieve greater fuel economy with no hybrid option, and no internet-connected anything.

In other words, a modern stripper car. Possibly one of the best cars ever to be made. Simple, straightforward, reliable, and could be built and sold cheap.

We have the tech today to put in 1970s-era smog control with 2020s knowhow, especially considering all the advances in filtration that have been made. Yes, this would result in a slower car and that's the tradeoff. The point is that it is doable and would not require massive retooling just to get done.

Would a New Malaise Era car be an SUV? Nope. Too heavy and too difficult to get any kind of decent fuel economy without chips. The car shapes used have to be lighter in weight. Namely, midsize sedans, midsize wagons and the modern crossovers.

A big effort would be put towards weight reduction to keep that fuel economy up. Couldn't really do that with '70s tech, but can with 2020's tech.

Another big effort would be to make the cars as aerodynamic as possible while still looking regular-ish, again for fuel economy. Yeah, this basically means a lot of Prius-like car shapes would start appearing.

Would New Malaise Era cars be better?

Yes. They would be far and above better than what was seen in the '70s and early '80s.

For example, take a 2022 Toyota Corolla. Imagine it with no screens, almost no options and a manual transmission - but with only an engine that makes 90hp instead of 139.

Slower? Yes. Too slow? No. It could still buzz around town, cruise at highway speeds easily and still get decent fuel economy.

The same thing could happen for any car made now. De-tech the existing model. No need to reinvent the wheel. Take out the screens, put in a manual gearbox or simple mechanical automatic transmission, take out the unnecessary electronics, concentrate on base models.

Will people complain about slower cars? Yes. But they won't complain if they're priced right.

I honestly do hope a New Malaise Era is coming, as I think the world would genuinely appreciate simple, truly affordable cars again.

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