Rumour of the demise of car enthusiasts, to paraphrase the late great Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated.
A new generation of buyers, some warn, are more interested in the technology in their pockets and on their desks than what could be on their driveways. Wall posters of Lamborghinis have been replaced by something more PC and passe. Local motorshows are dead or dying (even though, as you can read here, they are in fact booming along in their own concentrated way).
The sentiment struck a chord with many, and on some points this opinion hit the nail square on the head. At the same time, even within a few hours of publishing, comments on the yarn were nearing triple figures. I don’t think those people reading our site on a Sunday evening lack enthusiasm!
The story has since gone viral to a degree we didn’t expect. The issue, it seems, is one that evokes strong feelings in our readership.
To keep this thing stoking along, I want to promote a different view, a view that while the environment for car fans is more inhospitable than ever, the passion and love for all things motoring is hanging on. No, it’s thriving.
Firstly, let’s get a few things about of the way. It is true that many of today’s learners seem to have different priorities. Research tells us that infotainment, safety and environmental credentials are the key consideration set for many, the sort of people for whom zero to 100km/h times and steering feel are little but quaint irrelevancies.
Equally true is the fact that ever-tightening road regulations and an absurd obsession with speed as the sole arbiter of all things negative on our roads makes driving for the sake of driving an endangered pursuit.
It is hard to look two corners ahead when you can’t even afford to see beyond your speedometer. It’s not like this everywhere, but in Australia it is rampant.
Furthermore, propaganda has caused a large proportion of Australians to swallow the mantra that speed — and almost only speed — kills, hook, line and sinker. Speed is dangerous sure — in the wrong hands. But so is a lack of training and inattentiveness.
And yet despite these impositions, a look at Australia’s new vehicle sales figures will tell you that the lust for performance cars remains strong. Ask any car-maker’s global arm and they will tell you that Australia is seen as a performance market to end all performance markets.
In fact, Mercedes-Benz AMG considers Australia the world’s leading market from a proportional perspective — in other words, the ratio between regular Mercs and AMG versions sold is at its highest here — and 25 per cent of all Volkswagen Golf sales at times are GTIs and Rs. That’s outrageous.
Crucially, across many brands these figures are growing. The idea that people no longer define some side of themselves with their choice of car doesn’t hold water if you look at the sales figures.
Even more interestingly, much of this recent growth is coming either from affordable entry models such as the Toyota 86, everyman hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, or conquesting small premium offerings targeted at upwardly mobile Gen Y achievers such as the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
Yes, sportscar sales are down this year, but it’s worth remembering that 2013 was a record year, and that the 86 and Subaru BRZ have come off the boil since then as the cars get older and lose their lustre. This phenomenon has always happened. In a greater sense, what the figures tell us is that many of the performance buyers lining up for sporty offerings over the past few years are young.
In other words, enthusiast buyers appear to in some ways resemble the teeth of a Great White Shark — once older ones disappear, a row of new ones joins up.
Consider also that Audi, for one, sold more S and RS models in the first half of 2014 than it did for all of 2013 and that Subaru is selling nearly as many WRXs as regular versions of the Impreza. The lust for performance is there, just look at the numbers.
Let’s also not forget another imminent player at the budget end of the sportscar market. I’m in fact writing this piece on a plane to San Francisco to see the (now-revealed) fourth-generation Mazda MX-5. Few cars in recent times have been as hyped.
Hyped where, you ask? No technological development has fostered communities linked by shared passions rather than their geography quite like the internet. If it’s a car, chances are it has a forum filled with devotees.
But let’s move beyond the spate of affordable sportscars gracing our showrooms. If we crystal ball, we see a pipeline of ultra-modern exotica that feature a melding of green technology and sporting prowess. A beautiful symbiosis is forming, where hybridisation is being seen as a means of adding pace and not just cutting fumes.
Think the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918. Consider also that maybe the decline in question is not for performance cars per se, but merely ones that guzzle fuel. The Tesla Model S and BMW i8 have their fair share of devotees, do they not? Let’s also not forget that every hybrid under the sun has some sort of virtual game in which it urges you to beat your green-driving record.
I suspect a better summation is to say that the cars that inspire enthusiasm are changing. What makes something desirable is different to what it was. But don’t tell me driving something edgy won’t still get you attention from certain circles.
Sure, there are those for whom the deification of all things automotive is absurd, who would rather lose themselves in the tech in their pockets than the tech on their neighbour’s driveway. But car enthusiasts have always been a sub-segment, a niche, and long may that remain the case.
Does car culture permeate society like it once did? Do young people define their very being by what they drive? Some do, most don’t. As it always was.
Nevertheless, the passion of our readers at CarAdvice, consumers of other outlets, forum visitors and even the countless people on the street that give me the thumbs up when they see me in some piece of exotica is evident. And sales figures suggest they’re putting their money where their mouths are too.