A few years ago I was suckered in by the prospect of a driverless tomorrow. My children would ping around from city to city on future-y trains that could pick them up without ever stopping. Or on moving sidewalks. Or in self-driving cars, with banquette seating and open bars! I believed in that last one hardcore. I figured we were mere years away from never having to set foot to pedal to get wherever we wanted to go.
I should’ve known better. I was already old enough to know that the world I live in is always ready to let me down, and yet I thought the auto industry, out of everyone, was somehow exempt from that rule. Reader, you’re not gonna believe this, but it is not. I wanted flying cars. Instead I got a pandemic, hoax miracle buses, bug-infested driverless cars retrofitted to deliver shitty pizza, a deteriorating American infrastructure that will never be repaired, and more goddamn cars. Our real future, one unfolding before us right now, is one where cars not only remain legion, but where the expensive ones dominate.
I know because I live in the Washington, D.C. area, where you can’t get out of bed without stumbling into some asshole lobbyist’s X3. Last year, during the pandemic, wealthy Americans bought even more cars than they usually do, which artificially inflated the average price of new cars sold across the board. Given that the K-shaped economic recovery has already begun in earnest, that artificial inflation may soon become permanent with cars, just as it has with homes and private schools.
Now, you can still buy “affordable” cars, like a base-model Honda Civic that retails for just under $22,000. Or the lowest trim-level of the new Toyota Sienna, which clocks in at $35,000, give or take. But in terms of style, comfort, and amenities, many of those base-model cars treat you like absolute shit, and everyone on the road knows it.
I know it because I test drove a base-model Honda Odyssey, which I despised. I felt like I was driving the Spirit Airlines of cars. Then I test drove an Elite model of that same minivan and suddenly—whether it was the blue ambient LED lighting on the dashboard or the air-conditioned seat that made me feel like Irish forest nymphs were fanning my otherwise gruesome ass—it was like I was driving a whole different vehicle. I was upsold. Spiritually, a Honda Odyssey should never cost more than $100. But after my encounter with the base model, I gladly paid $40,000-plus for the Touring edition. (The top-spec Elite was just a hair too elite for my taste). It became the most expensive new car I’ve ever bought, and it was a goddamn Honda Odyssey. But at least it was a nice one. And now I understand that $40,000 represents the entry barrier to any new car I’d actually want to drive.
I’m not alone in that. It’s why rich people kept