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OPINION: No, all cars are not becoming white goods

24th January 2024
Ben Miles

Over the last week or two some parts of car-based social media have been awash with doom-laden opinions that the car is either over, or at least struggling onto its deathbed.  

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This was sparked by a few well-thought-out opinions posited by motoring journalists that right now there’s a lull in the car market. Cars inspiring it have recently included Honda’s awfully-named and quite poorly-made eny:1 and the electric version of the BMW’s 5 Series, the i5.

These cars are mediocre at best and they are not the only ones. It’s not just certain new EVs that are that are failing to nudge the enthusiasm needle above ‘have noticed it exists’. Take the Vauxhall Mokka for example, a car that is significantly better than the one it replaced but still infuriates, or the current Golf, which sells like hotcakes but has enough flaws to last VW an entire lifetime.

It’s definitely true that the car industry seems to be in a lull. There’s a new Lancia coming out. Does anyone care? No. It’s a small crossover-ey thing that will probably sell really well in Italy and nowhere else. Ferrari has just spent a few days teasing something that it turns out is possibly a boat rather than the next hypercar or its hotly-anticipated 812 successor and trying to remember what Nissan sells these days gets genuinely tricky.

But the online furore has blown these observations and those like them, as it so regularly does, quite dramatically out of proportion. The car is becoming a commodity. It’s becoming… a white good.

Qeulle horreur! This is the end of days, we might as well all pack up. The onrush of EVs means cars are over, give up and accept that we as car fans will all be locked up and put in the gulag. You won’t even be able to think about an Integrale without risking incarceration by the thought police.

OK, it’s not quite that bad, even on XformerlyknownasTwitter, but it isn’t too far off. The argument is that with electrification and screen-ising of cars, they will become a replaceable good, just like your phone. With everyone buying on finance or leasing no one will be looking to own cars and they will just become like a fridge.

Except, it’s just not true is it? Yes, there’s a lot of dross around but the gems are very clearly there and they’re coming from all over the place. Look at our candidates for Goodwood Cars of the Year (or watch it here why don’t you?). An amazing hybrid supercar, the latest two masterpieces from Porsche, an Italian mentalist and a hot hatch, all expected, but all very good.

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And then we had two all-electric offerings. The MG4 Xpower might leave a little to be desired, but the standard MG4 is, frankly, brilliant. Rear-wheel-drive, sparkly and nicely made, we love it. The Hyundai Ioniq 6 has taken my colleague Simon under its spell and while I might not agree, that kind of debate shows that cars as passion products are alive and well.

Companies from China and South Korea are putting pressure on European legacy companies to up their game. Be better or you will disappear. Aston Martin has dragged its DB-badged GT up by the bootstraps with the DB12. Everywhere you look in motoring right now you can find some form of hope.

So, is the car dead? Are we as petrolheads just doomed to find something else to do? No, of course it isn’t and of course we’re not. While EV progress is wild and seems to tear up some of our rulebooks, it’s actually bringing more good cars and more ideas. The Cybertruck has its annoyances but it’s certainly a new idea. But proclaiming it to be so over and over again is doing no one any good at all. All cars are not white goods now, never have been and nor are they going to be any time soon.

And breathe…

Editor’s note: Cars you could describe as soulless white goods products have plagued our roads for years. An anonymous Japanese hatchback didn’t stop what has been a glorious three decades for interesting cars. Nor did diesel incentivisation. Nor did the Prius, Nor did the Qashqai. Nor did the Juke. Nor will electrification. Nor will EVs in general. Nor will anything else.

Ford CEO Jim Farley once told us as much: “I think the most important thing is that cars are not refrigerators. They’re passion projects. I don’t want generic A-B products, like Toyota where I came from.

“I love Apple but these Apple phones, they’re very much ‘Prius’ products. The apps and the content are important but it’s not a passion product. Motorcars can’t go the same way. Personal transportation is, like a home, like a watch, a very emotive thing”.

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