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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #109: They paved the Sloan Plan, and put up a Supercharger lot | Hagerty Media

For me, it was the Signature Series shot heard 'round the world. For most of 1981, while America celebrated little things like being able to turn the thermostat up but well before the economic tide had actually started to turn for most people, my father drove an '81 Buick Century Custom wagon as his company car while his business partner continued to steer a 1979 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact/avoidable-contact-109-they-paved-the-sloan-p...
26 REPLIES 26
DrMindbender
New Driver

I am just glad that the current car-identity crisis has opened up one distinct genre: the Sports Car, for those that want to show others that our car has no JOB to do, and is only for FUN. That is a statement worth making these days. I revel in the comeback of the 2 door fun car! Here is one more status symbol that says "you're rich" these days...any newer car that has "Gasp" A STICKSHIFTER. It means you don't care how much it costs to get from A to B, and you had to spend time away from Work to learn how to Play.
danio3834
Intermediate Driver

The vehicle hierarchy has been muddled but still very much exists. Today, one buys the fanciest SUV their budget will allow to show where they stand. For reference back to your timeframe, the Kia Telluride is the Olds 98 of today.

If you're a MAN with a JOB and MONEY, only a crew cab short bed truck will do. The amount of job and money one has determines what trim they get since pickups are brand heirarchies of their own.

Pretty well anything else means you're:
Poor = Mainstream Sedan
Old = Luxury Sedan
Egotistical and immature = Sports/Muscle car
Depressed proletariat breeder scum = Minivan

Or so I am told by women, who apparently decide all of this.
DavidHolzman
Detailer

Back in the early '70s, when my parents taught at Tufts, and I was studying there, I'd borrowed my father's car, a '68 Falcon wagon, and I was driving it on the campus. One of my friends came up to me as I was stopped at an intersection. "Is that the Dave-mobile?" he said, his voice conveying respect for the implied fact that I had a car.

No, I said, it's my father's. "You mean the Chairman of the Economics Department drives around in THAT?!!" his tone having completely changed, and now suggesting that he'd ended his sentence with the definite article in order to avoid saying "POS".

Like a lot of academics, my father had no use for status symbols. At that time, a lot of academics drove Plymouth Valiants, which had a reputation for lasting (my parents had one, for which they'd relied on my judgment when they purchased it).
Tsaxman
Detailer

Exactly. Pre-counter culture, our family doctor made house calls in a VW Beetle.
hyperv6
Gearhead

The end of the Sloan plan was this. Yes moving to try to fill every notch with one division had a price. This price a move to corporate platforms and engines where each division lost its true identity. This still plagues Cadillac today as it once was a company that offered coach built cars and now gives you a sedan on a Camaro chassis and a truck engine.

The high cost of development has exceeded what most companies can afford so today we are seeing all brands pick snd choose what to offer and what will make money. They no longer can satisfy every craving.

Many have had to merge and even companies like Honda are going to GZm for EV tech to save money. That shows how expensive it is today.

Then you also have this social factor. In the past people identified who they were by their car. Their brand was a standard bearer of their status. Being a Packard man meant more than your choice of car.

Today vehicles are more about transportation than status. Rich can drive anything from a BMW to a Chevy Truck or Civic. Too often I see people buy a BMW and find they can afford the car but not the repair.

As for Tesla. They are a true product of hype snd promotion. They did not invent the EV. They really don’t offer much more than what anyone is or will have. What they did was prove with the right Musk hype they could sell a EV at a price no one expected would work. Now that the others have advanced their programs their scale will overwhelm Tesla. They will bring better and more advanced models at a faster and more steady on time pace to market than Tesla.

Tesla may survive but it will be based more on their cult following but if they lose that they could just be another merger.

The bottom line today is that the vehicle is just an appliance of getting some place. Affordability and reliability are king today not image so much.

The future will be interesting as we see the change over of vehicles to EV. In some ways very sad but with the cost savings in development it could lead to vehicle that will be much different and built in lower volumes and verities.

We also may see things we have not planned on.

We also need to guard against tech from also controlling us. In the UK they are pushing to force the cars to adopt a GPS speed limiter. The limiter will prevent you from going over the speed limit. Imagine trying to get out of the way of a tornado?

 

FYI people years ago bought cars more often for two reasons. One they were cheaper and more affordable to the average wage owner. Two they fell apart sooner important many cases. Rust engine issues etc. We see well restored classics today that are pampered but back in the day that hemi Road Runner would last about 5 years in the salt and was not worth the investment to repair. 

I drove a 11,000 mile 82 Camaro not long ago. It was a mess but i5 was in show room condition. The carpet did not fit. Major Orange Peel and other things. Glove box not aligned etc. well restored cars do nothing to help remind how bad things were. 

JSievers
Advanced Driver

Tesla sold a record 200,000+ cars last quarter. Their cars definitely offer the buyer more than what they can get from the competition, particularly in the areas of vehicle technology and charging infrastructure. Unless the stop developing new product altogether the chances that they will be overrun in the EV marketplace are slim and none. No, I don’t own a Tesla in case you were wondering, I simply know a good thing when I see it.
mhealy1
Detailer

Tesla sold just under 185k cars last quarter. They lost money on each of them. Keeping Tesla afloat was $518M in carbon sales credits.
If the carbon credit picture changes, Tesla may have a hard time surviving.
hyperv6
Gearhead

Tesla has been uncontested in the EV market. 

Heck the Brown could have won a number of Super Bowls by now if they had the same odds. And I am Browns fan! 

Plain and simple Tesla is a big fish in a very small pond. That is going to change soon as other automakers will intro more cars at one division into the EV segment that Tesla has offered in it entire existence. 

I am sure they will remain competitive but they will have to fight for sales for the first time. They will need to get more product out and in time not promise it, then pre sell it then not deliver for 4 years or more. 

Tesla also will need to refresh the cars they have the S is long in the tooth. Sure 2 seconds yo 60 make headlines but in the real world it matters little. Everyone will be quick to 60 but the winner will be a full charge in the same time to fill a tank of gas, 

 

I am not a Tesla hater just a realist. Every mfg has challenges ahead and most are big enough and financially strong enough really impact the market in ways a Tesla will struggle. 

 

topside
Detailer

Well thought out, and credit for the 1984 reference (which for the younger set, was a book - and a predictive one at that - before it was made, and more recently re-made, into a movie). I recall Dad feeling like he'd finally "arrived" when he came home with a Town Car; as a depression-era kid, he always equated big cars with status. Hence, although he'd enjoyed a Hillman Minx convertible at one time, his favorite of all was his '66 Sport Fury. Maybe because while it said "Sport", it was a biggish car with power options and AC.
As for The Sloan Plan, it was obvious even as a child, but I think leasing was the initial Sword of Damocles for it - suddenly, folks could park cars in their driveways that they really couldn't afford, and the social/economic strata began to roil.
JSievers
Advanced Driver

Right about Acura. Wrong about 8” floppy disks. The TRS-80 only offered cassette tape and 5-1/4” floppy disk storage. While 8” floppy’s were common with earlier S-100 bus computers, by the time the TRS-80 debuted they were well on their way out.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Sir, you're thinking of the Model III.

The Model II was an 8" disk computer and never had a 5 1/4" option. Ask the Internet, you'll see! 🙂
Vintageracer
Pit Crew

Tesla, an expensive golf cart!
MeJ
Detailer

Thanks for you well thought out, informed, useful, and relevant post.
DrOverboost
Pit Crew

Retired. Driving my 1980 Supercharged 6.3 liter black on black Corvette. Power windows/brakes/steering. (“What?!” said the millennial “You mean there was a time when those were options?!)
NO COMPUTER. No one to keep track of me comrades. And I don’t care what others think.
markvii1
Intermediate Driver

Being of the aforementioned "under 40" generation from your article I do have to dive in a little deeper to understand every metaphor. I find that makes it more enjoyable.

On a side note while I've only been married to my wife since last October (we would have celebrated our one year anniversary in May if not for for COVID) we have been together for thirteen years. In that time she has owned three cars, and I have owned 13. The only car I ever financed was her current 2019 Hyundai Sonata (yes for 6 years) because I know she will keep it. I guess that makes me an old soul as my wife calls me. Thank you for providing some outside perspective and insight! As always a thoroughly enjoyable read.
SuperDeLuxe
Detailer

My parents only had one car for the first 14 years they were married. In those years they had the first car, 1962 Impala, for 5 years and the other, 1972 Heavy Chevy, for 9. The Heavy Chevy was bought new off the lot in 1972 and driven daily for 20 years. Frugal? I suppose. Socially conscious? Maybe. We got a second car for my mom when she joined the workforce in 1981, a gently used 1977 Chevette. Air conditioning and no more climbing over the seat to get in, (it had 4 doors - 2 in the front, 2 in the back!). Alfred Sloan, love him or hate him, his vision gave meaning to an otherwise banal consumerism. The world never look the same again.
Reinhold_Weege
Advanced Driver

Another great read. You make me wish I’d gone the author route vs. a near 30-year career with an OEM in the very industry you write about; something I knew I wanted to do from whatever moment kids realize such things. There’s always retirement I suppose, but who wants to hear from an X’er?


Remember that pop-culture keeps image alive to an extent that many people don’t realize it’s dead. Cadillac may have been un-hip by 1995, when the movie was released, but would anyone have believed a smooth-operator like Casino's Ace Rothstein would be blown up in a Toyota instead of an Eldorado? (As it turns out, the movie’s car-casting was dead-on here.) Thus Cadillac still had an image and even if it wasn’t exactly the stuff of glossy catalogs and ad campaigns, it was better than "rental upgrade". 


Back to my original point… I’m doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do career-wise in 1990 and yet I’m profoundly unsatisfied. If I had it to do over again, I could think of a half-dozen other careers I’d chose over OEM prototype development. I came up in a time when looking at Motor Trend spy photos was a must-do whenever I passed a magazine rack. When a clandestine skunk works could put together a modern-day Cobra using minivan parts and a V10. I’ve been paid (while earning defined pension benefits) to drive 160 MPH on a closed course but that was near the beginning of my career and the tail end of an era. My timing was perfect for a 30-year career as the sun sets on vehicle image.


Does anyone really want a career in a commodities business? I suppose it’s cool if you do it to pay bills and have hobbies like golf, drinking, or watching other people play sports. But what if you were hoping your employer would sponsor your weekend drag car or give you the time off for a one-lap-of-America run? Unfortunately for me, they’d be much more interested in me if I could work one of their products into the background of a social media/social justice campaign. “Could you be seen in brand-logoed attire, stepping out of the product just close enough to be in the frame with the protest, but not close enough to actually have the car burned? That would be super! Thanks.”


So “meh.” I consider myself lucky to have experienced any of it, to have crossed paths with well-known names, or sometimes to have even just laid a tire on the same hallowed ground. Even more lucky to have my health and a start young enough to have a second career after I turn in my goodbye paperwork. But make no mistake, manufacturers are signing their own death warrants with an assortment of useful idiots providing the pen and the government form. I don’t even bother to look when something passes by wearing camouflage. “It’s another size of SUV/people-mover running the same electric motor as another people-mover, but with a different battery. Who cares?” I don’t attach any more image/status/excitement to a cordless drill.

MeJ
Detailer

"...I suppose it’s cool if you do it to pay bills and have hobbies like golf, drinking, or watching other people play sports..."
This is a least 80% of blue collar people! I know. I'm one.
Reinhold_Weege
Advanced Driver

FWIW, I had white-collar types in mind when I wrote it. Perhaps even a few specific people I know with little passion for their jobs.

MeJ
Detailer

Well, I don't know very many blue-collar workers who are passionate about their jobs either...

We are passionate about drinking though! Booze is the great equalizer of social status.

wdb
Intermediate Driver

Golly, you care about all the wrong stuff. Or maybe you just write like you care? Hard to tell.

We recently put up a garage, the first garage I have had in my 65 years (at the time) on the planet. I had outlets put in for electric car chargers. I imagine I'll get one someday, but not quite yet. I'm still having far too much fun picking up BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches at the bottom of their oh-so deep depreciation curves. I've looked at used Tesla Model S's but a big sedan really doesn't fit my lifestyle at the moment and people for some reason think Teslas don't depreciate. Maybe when the Mustang-E hits that point, maybe then I'll go electric.
Tsaxman
Detailer

More brilliance from Jack. My 911 4S cabriolet notwithstanding, I learned a lesson about the folly of social climbing and materialism with my first trip to Aspen when I was in my 20s. In the airport, I grabbed one of those color real estate marketing catalogues that were near every newsstand way back when. There, to my utter astonishment, were homes for sale, with list prices exceeding my net worth by many multiples. And these were vacation properties. Those owners quite likely only stayed there during ski season. Who knows what their primary homes were, or perhaps their waterfront properties, I wondered.

Quite amazed and a little chagrined, I discussed this concept with my mentor and guru of all things (we should all be so lucky to have a brilliant avuncular-type who does not report to our parents), and he told me that I had just learned an invaluable lesson:
"The billionaires are always putting pressure on the millionaires."
MeJ
Detailer

A few thoughts, First, wow. I must be old. I remember the TRS-80 and wanted that gorgeous Atari 800!
Second, it sounds like that wealthy friend would be someone you wouldn't be able to stand. I know I wouldn't.
Third, after reading this article and agreeing with the underlying cynicism, I realize now why the old guys at my Dads legion would sit around after work, drink beer, and **bleep** about everything: it's because they had been around long enough to know! Young people are just so clueless about the world. Even worse, they gain most knowledge through *gasp* the internet and social media.
I think we're doomed...
drjim
Detailer

Damn, Jack, you keep getting better and better. Your story of your father's cars is very similar to mine, and for the same reasons....That's The Way It Was Done back then. My Dad wore out a car in the 60's about every 18 months. He was a Manufacturer's Representative (Bridgeport Milling Machines) who drove 35~45000 miles per year, and couldn't be caught dead driving a car that wasn't American Made. He moved from Chevy's to Oldsmobiles during his career, indicating what he felt was his place in the corporate structure. Pontiacs were too flashy, Buicks were for Doctors, and a Cadillac? Heavens, no, too ostentatious. And he had ONE Ford in his life, a 1960~61 Fairlane, and had nothing but trouble with it, so he went back to GM. Besides, everybody knew what's good for GM was good for the USA!

Great article, thanks again!

- Jim
Flashman
Instructor

More cogent, insightful, iconoclastic, and incisive social commentary, peppered with wit and obscure-to-some references, tangentially-related to automobiles. I always have a great time with you (how many have ever told you that)?
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Nobody I wasn't paying to say it! 🙂