Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Where did all the cool cars go?
It was like a dream come true. I’d always wanted a Ford Mustang and there I was, cruising around Tokyo in the latest version of the iconic sports car with the 4.0 litre, V6 engine producing a powerful roar every time I accelerated.
I was able to adjust pretty quickly to the left-side steering wheel — Japanese steering wheels are always on the right — though I had a few embarrassing mix-ups between the directionals and the windshield wipers.
The last time I’d driven such a car was about 20 years ago, when I had a ’78 Chevy Camaro in my senior year of high school in Massachusetts.
Back then most kids in school wanted a car, and saved up from part-time jobs and went to driving school so they could get their license as soon as they were eligible – in my case the day I turned 16 and a half.
These days, however, a lot of young people seem to be more into electronics than cars, with vehicles just a tool to get them from point A to point B. It’s tough competing with all the PCs, cellphones and iPods out there. And money, of course, is a big factor as people cut spending in these low-octane economic times.
But I also wonder if cars nowadays are missing a bit of the cool factor.
Think Steve McQueen’s Mustang in the 1968 movie “Bullitt”, chasing the bad guys around San Francisco in their Dodge Charger. Or Josh Duhamel’s ’69 Camaro SS convertible in TV’s “Las Vegas”. Those cars had audacity and style.
Car sales in Japan hit a 34-year low last year, as the economic slump exacerbated already declining sales due to aging demographics. Maybe it’s just me but the car lineup out there – take a look at all the boxy minivans, and 660 cc minivehicles which make up over a third of the market - is hardly inspiring, and I wonder if this could be part of the problem.
A survey earlier this year by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association showed that autos ranked a paltry 17th among products and services university students are interested in buying – coming in one slot below cosmetics and beauty salons. Computers, fashion and portable music players made up the top three.
It makes sense that carmakers are focusing on cleaner emissions and better mileage as consumers increasingly demand leaner and greener. But in doing so, I hope they don’t sacrifice fun and style.
Unfortunately the Mustang wasn’t mine to keep — it was only a test-drive — and less than 10 minutes after I set out I returned to reality as I rolled back into the dealership. Maybe someday when the kids are grown up, I thought looking at the Mustang emblem on the front grill. If muscle cars are still around then.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Fred Prouser