A Case For Minimalism

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Jan 25, 2009
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One of the issues that will soon get me thrown out of the mainstream automotive media forever is my love for minimalism.

I'm not talking about a basic no-frills car. Or a general rejection of cars in favor of more environmentally sound alternatives.

For me it's all about buying cars. I believe the way most non-enthusiasts can get ahead when it comes to cars is to buy as few of them as possible, and keep holding them for as long as possible.

It's a lot like investing in the stock market. The fewer the transactions and the greater that powertrain is produced and improved on, the better the opportunity to get ahead when it comes to long-term costs and personal satisfaction.

Let me give you a personal example. When I was 21 years old, I managed to buy my first and only brand new car thanks to a windfall of profits on Chrysler stock. It was a red 1994 Toyota Camry coupe. I ended up maintaining it as well as possible and doing all the things many of us here already do when it comes to upkeep. The difference?

I didn't do it because I wanted to focus on cars in the near future.

My goal was to keep it for as long as possible and then, if I got the chance, I would also buy a 1st gen NA Mazda Miata. Those would be my only two cars for the rest of my life.

Would I have been happy 20 years later? Probably. That 1994 Toyota Camry is still on the road today with nearly 400,000 miles on it. One of the owners after it was sold decided to lop off about 200,000 miles from the odometer and reset it for 350,000 to 150,000 miles. When I finally could afford a Miata, I absolutely loved it. I loved the idea of being able to customize and upgrade it as time went on.

I know I started out as an extreme outlier, but high prices, higher interest rates, and the economics of EV ownership are changing the winds of what consumers now want. I think we're now headed for a period where automobiles will become durable goods. Instead of being owned and maintained for years. They will be kept for decades on end. I see two market forces guiding this transition.

The first is that the best chance Tesla has for dominating the car market is to eliminate the need for their owners to buy another vehicle from anyone else, and the best way to differentiate themselves beyond their current image is to offer cars that will last 300,000 to 550,000 miles which is what they already do with their late-model vehicles.

If a car can last that long, you, as someone who isn't into cars in general, you already know that manufacturer is capable of cementing a long-term relationship with your needs IF you aren't really that much into cars. It becomes the easy choice for the non-enthusiast. Just like nobody got fired for buying an IBM from the 1960s thru 1980s, and buying a Toyota usually comes down to a desire for reliability above all else, a late-model Tesla EV is already engineered for longevity and most major automakers will be follow down that exact path of rivaling durability whether they like it or not.

The other change that will gradually happen is that cars, and especially EVs, will eventually become a lot more modular than they are right now. Precious few non-enthusiasts ever bother to do more than just add a nicer radio into this car. Tomorrow's vehicles will allow for a lot more modularlity and change with the software, hardware and the interior of the automobile. EVs are far easier to make and with the powertrain tucked away underneath, the automakers will have a broader palette for customizing and upgrading their cars and trucks.

For right now, automakers want to monetize their vehicles these days by offering monthly subscriptions and getting their customers to finance for as long as possible. I think both models will fail. What will succeed are upgrades and improvements that can be offered over the course of time. The two-row crossover that can have an added third-row installed. Or captain's chairs, upgraded interior seats, dashboard materials and door panels. Upgraded entertainment packages. Improved software that can offer unique features and benefits.

If I can make my older car feel and drive like new for a lot less money than a new car, why would I bother getting rid of it?

I have worn a lot of hats over the years when it comes to the car business. Auto auctioneer. Dealer principal. Analyst. Remarketing manager. Part-owner of an auto auction. The main stumbling blocks I think most mainstream media sources can't fully understand or even accept is that most consumers don't want to be perpetual debtors. They want to be owners. BUT they still want to have that upgrade opportunity whenever that time comes.

I see this as the future for the bulk of the auto industry. Ownership. Durability. Customization that is offered by the manufacturer which trumps the need for a brand new model, and the car becoming a durable good instead of a consumable one.

I disagree with pretty much all the mainstream automotive editors and marketeers. and that's fine. They couldn't comprehend GM going bankrupt until it already happened, and they ignored Tesla's rise until their valuation went far beyond any other automaker.

Once Tesla can build EVs in the $30,000 to $35,000 range with a $7,500 rebate thrown on top, that seven year payment really only amounts to $380 a month if you assume $5,000 down and an 8% interest rate. Nearly four months of those payments every year will come from saved gas costs which will minimize repossessions. The lack of depreciation for certain EVs due to their high demand, will also favor these vehicles even more in the marketplace. This will happen for the leaders of the EV market, not everyone.

I see our industry changing this way. This may take 10 or 15 years, but we're already on the road.
 
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I'm going to be polite as possible. Sorry, but "minimalism" is not a new car that requires a entire re-vamping of electrical grids and infrastructures to be adopted en mass to be workable. You want "minimalism," then walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. If you must have a vehicle, buy a 10-20 year old Camry or Civic with low miles. You'll get another 20 years of low cost reliability with minimal environmental footprint, waste, and maintenance.

the economics of EV ownership are changing the winds of what consumers now want.
Nope. Nationwide adoption of about 4%, almost entirely heavily represented in a unique weather and economic "climate" of California. Excellent weather, and extremely wealthy toys for the elite class who - trust me are NOT minimalistic. Impractical at best. EV ownership is generally car number 2 thru 5. The rest of the nation ranges from about 0% to 2% adoption.

They will be kept for decades on end. I see two market forces guiding this transition.
False. EV battery realistic lifespan is about a decade. Advertised at 15 years, batteries never meet optimistic advertised goals. Costs something like $10k to replace. Sure they might improve and come down in cost. But as it stands now the first battery replacement will meet or exceed the value of the car at year 10-15. Technology, unlike mechanical devices, is easier to build in obsolescence. After year X companies stop supporting updates etc. and tech becomes obsolete and unworkable. How many old cell phones and laptops do you keep, versus disposable and getting new? Exactly. Not many or none.

The two-row crossover that can have an added third-row installed. Or captain's chairs, upgraded interior seats, dashboard materials and door panels. Upgraded entertainment packages. Improved software that can offer unique features and benefits.

If I can make my older car feel and drive like new for a lot less money than a new car, why would I bother getting rid of it?

Idealistic. None of that will happen. There will be incentives to make cars that last only beyond warranties and battery life spans to keep new buyers coming. Example: Current auto makers know exactly how to make plastics and "leather seats" last only beyond a certain age, and then fail. It's planned obsolescence but much easier with EVs than mechanical vehicles that people can actually fix and keep on the roads.
most consumers don't want to be perpetual debtors. They want to be owners.
That's not really supported by reality, if you examine the consumer debt, perpetual auto loans, leases, renting of apartments and houses, etc. American consumers make really poor economic decisions in general, and often rent/lease, or take on loans (they generally cannot afford or are economically unsound).

I see this as the future for the bulk of the auto industry. Ownership. Durability.
That is not the model for auto makers who profit in selling vehicles. Auto makers (and appliance makers) learned long ago to make things only good enough to last thru warranty periods and slightly beyond. Also, when things break it keeps their mechanics perpetually employed as well. They also benefit from model updates. No chance this changes IMO.

Tesla's rise until their valuation went far beyond any other automaker.
Almost entirely speculative, FYI. No rational basis for it. May as well be Tulips or fly-by-night crypto.

Tesla can build EVs in the $30,000 to $35,000 range with a $7,500 rebate thrown on top,
A rebate that will not last indefinitely and probably go away with broader EV adoption. Also, you could buy a 2010 Civic or Camry for $5-10,000 and be far, far ahead of the cost analysis vs. a $30,000 EV.

Nearly four months of those payments every year will come from saved gas costs which will minimize repossessions.
I've run the numbers, and it's fictional to believe EVs are cheaper in the long run than ICE. But it depends heavily on many variables so it is not that simple. E.G. at about year 10, plan on a $10k battery for a EV. How about special chargers at a home? How about most people don't own homes with garages so where do apartment dwellers or similar charge their EVs? Did you factor these and other variables in?

The lack of depreciation for certain EVs due to their high demand, will also favor these vehicles even more in the marketplace
No lack of depreciation for EVs. In fact, members on this forum have reported EVs flooding the used market lots and significant depreciation. Many dealers will not take EVs. And a recent study in CA concluded that 1 in 5 EV owners went back to ICE for a host of reasons including costs, convenience, reliability, affordability, repair costs, etc.

In sum, the EV fantasy is just that. It's a delusion. These are toys for wealthy people who own multiple vehicles, or generally have very untraditional unique lifestyles and wealth that the common American does not enjoy. Americas grids and infrastructure, and the battery technology, are decades and trillions of dollars away from being able to adopt widespread EVs. If left to FAIR MARKET competition (e.g. no rebates, no tax incentives, laws banning ICE, thumbs on the scales against ICE in favor of EVs etc.) broad adoption of EVs would be unable to compete for probably another few decades.

You want to be environmentally friendly and minimalist, go buy a well maintained low mileage car from the early 2000s. Take care of it. It'll be on the roads until 2040. That is the most environmentally sound and minimalist behavior for a car owner. Or ride a bike or walk or take public transit.
 
Good Thread! (y)

I too would love to keep my vehicles as long as possible and generally I do keep'em a long time. Because I like the vehicle I own as if it were the family pet. As it is said, "the least expensive vehicle to own is the one you already have".

In my area of the country, this is almost impossible to keep vehicles close to the 20 year mark just due to corrosion alone. And in my area of the country I also see your points differently. I see more & more vehicles being leased. Leasing is a way to avoid the repairs & downtime that come with long term ownership. People can afford the vehicle but not the repairs. This is why we see so many unmaintained older vehicles(in my area of the country) I guess?... People would just rather get rid of the vehicle and get another.

The longest I've been able to keep an everyday/daily driver vehicle('88 Honda Accord) here in the North East, is 18 years/~340,000 miles. Not because it was a great vehicle but because I chose to do what you did.
*1st by buying a reputable vehicle
*2nd, fortunately get a good example of said vehicle(I've had poor examples of known good vehicles).

*3rd, it had me as the owner/maintainer of said vehicle
But toward the end of said vehicles life, it took more of my time away from other things & family that I also enjoy, just to keep the vehicle longer??? 🤷‍♂️

Each one of your topics paragraphed can go into a whole discussion on its own. And therefore, we would get a slew of different opinions on each category. I agree with much of what you are saying however, due to my area of the country, I disagree with other parts just because of where I live.
 
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My case for minimalism is to own 1 vehicle. I have a F150 Crew Cab. It is a Swiss army knife that can do everything I need. There is no EV that can achieve the same. 550Mile range, tow all day, move 6 people, move big stuff.

Each vehicle is a set of tires, maintenance, registration, and insurance. Unless fuel gets really expensive it is still more economical to have 1 vehicle.

Everyone should buy a F150 and keep it forever 😀
 
The OP's thoughts are "dated". Love Hate that excuse to shove changes unto gullible consumers.
 
Right! 10 year old cah? LOL Looks the same as a 20-30 year old car somewhere else, if not worse.
Yep. Cars rot from the ground up. Many ads tout how they are rust free--who cares what the paint looks like, crawl underneath and post those pics. Bet they ain't rustfree after a couple of years...

On my departed Camry I tried to keep it coated with Fluid Film. It still rusted. There's better products but in the end, it's made of parts that wear, corrode, or suffer random failure. Multiple that by dwindling parts supply (or quality replacement parts) then by the chance of accident... It's great to run it into the ground, until a repair pops up and it's cheaper to replace than repair. But if you're not careful, replacing a well kept old car with another well kept car will be hard to do--few like to keep old cars up to snuff, and those that do, expect the moon now on resale, which wouldn't be bad, 'cept YOU don't know exactly how well kept it was.

Plus you'd wind up coming here on BITOG, point out the great deal on a hooptie you just got, then all the naysayers will point out what luddite you are. What you're missing out on, etc.
 
Buy an inexpensive four cylinder car new and run it forever?

That‘s a great plan.

Not sure the rest of the post makes sense, though, you’re projecting past success onto a future vehicle with totally different architecture and maintenance.
 
Is there a Cliff Notes version of the OP? From what I gather, he views cars as appliances. Something that performs a needed function in ones life with as little upkeep as possible and doesn't get much satisfaction from actually using it. As long as it does it's job, he is satisfied with it and has no intentions of replacing it. It's like my washer/dryer from the mid 80's. For the every 10 days to 2 weeks I run a load of laundry, it performs a satisfactory job. The newer models are cooler with exciting colors and neat features like front loading and automatic detergent dispensers, but doing laundry isn't really something I enjoy doing.
 
Minimalism, to me, is reflected in our Model 3. From the versatility of the tablet (and resulting clean dash), to the vegan leather seats, cell phone key and powerful drivetrain, this car is amazing. Consider the difference between the electric drivetrain to the complicated internal combustion drivetrain. Few parts vs many parts. 1 speed vs multi speed transmission (to compensate for the inefficient ICE). The ease of plugging in at night and starting every day with a full tank.
And then there is the driving experience; the flat cornering, right-now acceleration and 1 pedal driving is just plain better. Then there is the tiny maintenance schedule. What's not to like?

Now, EVs are not for everyone and not for every vehicle task. I love my trusty old Tundra; it is not for sale. But this is my experience; your experience and use case may vary.
 
People buy cars and trucks because they want them and it's not really a necessity. A person can live in a cave and drink water and eat bologna sandwiches but it is not what most consumers like to do. The reason I own 4 vehicles, a boat, and motorcycle are because I like them as a hobby more than transportation. If I wanted to go cheap I would keep my 2012 Honda Civic and drive nothing else. Furthermore I do not foresee a $30K to $35K new Tesla ever.
 
I'll probably get the mods all atwitter but this was my issue with Cash for Clunkers. Let's take vehicles that could 1) be repaired for continued use or 2) be parted to allow other vehicles to stay in service, and just destroy them all and/or deliberately sabotage their working engines.

Then, let's fire up the factories to build more ENTIRE vehicles rather than potentially putting those resources into making PARTS for existing vehicles....I mean after all surely the "carbon footprint" of building an entire Prius from scratch is way less than rebuilding alternators and making water pumps. Yeah, surely. Right??

One nice side benefit is encouraging the public to consume, consume, consume -- rather than repair existing vehicles. Yep, much improved carbon footprint.

Makes perfect sense to me (after a heavy dose of meth and being clubbed over the head repeatedly).

That said, people should choose to spend their money as they want. I'm just not into our leaders being heavy handed and attempting to severely manipulate the choices of consumers -- as was the case with C4C and is currently happening with EV's. (and gas stoves!!!!??!!!)

The free market WILL naturally migrate to EV's I believe, but let the market do it on its own. And for the record, I like the idea of EV's, just as I've abandoned nearly every corded or gas tool for battery power.
 
My case for minimalism is to own 1 vehicle. I have a F150 Crew Cab. It is a Swiss army knife that can do everything I need. There is no EV that can achieve the same. 550Mile range, tow all day, move 6 people, move big stuff.

Each vehicle is a set of tires, maintenance, registration, and insurance. Unless fuel gets really expensive it is still more economical to have 1 vehicle.

Everyone should buy a F150 and keep it forever 😀
I still have my 98 extended cab 4x4, does everything I need a truck to do and has a 6.5ft bed
 
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