If you’ve been around a while, you remember the thrill of a new car when you were a kid in the 1960s. The aroma of fresh vinyl and new carpet gassing off along with glistening chrome and new paint. I remember the aroma of paint burning off of hot exhaust manifolds. The new car experience a half-century ago was nothing like today where one model year blends into the next void of the fanfare and excitement we knew growing up. Each fall, new car dealers papered up their windows and the new model year rollout was a big secret.
If you loved automobiles, you went to the newsstand to check out the new models in MotorTrend and Car & Driver – then – headed to the dealers to see the new models on introduction day. It was a tradition and a big deal in these United States. The airwaves were alive with car commercials. TV shows highlighted the new models by making them characters in the show. Who can forget the Andy of Mayberry and all the new Fords – or “Bewitched” with Corvettes, Camaros, and Chevelles. Astronaut Major Tony Nelson in “I Dream of Jeannie” always had new Pontiacs. Who could even look at the GTOs with the distraction of Barbara Eden parading across the screen?
Every fall on “Dealer Row” in each community was a festive event with an abundance of exciting teasers to lure buyers into the showroom, “What will it take to put you in a new Ford today?” Lots of goodies for the kids – free stuff. The powerful influence of spouses who wanted to replace the family car with something a little more sporty or luxurious.
It is funny to remember how guarded our parents were with a new car. No food or drink. Get your feet off the seat backs. Stop playing with the switches and buttons. The endless battle over who got the window and who didn’t. And – that dreaded roadside spanking.
By the way – our car culture is as strong as it ever was. People like being seen in new cars and trucks. They like to get them home and dress them up with accessories. Placing your hands on the wheel of a new vehicle exudes a special kind of high – motoring away from a dealership. The euphoria of a new car and the anxiety of car payments. We ride those payments out for five years, just in time to start the payment cycle all over again.
The way dealers sell vehicles and the way we buy them is changing. Automakers are slowly abandoning their dealers and opting instead for you to buy direct. There’s also abandoning volume, building fewer vehicles, and making them more expensive. This is the new automotive economics as we crest the mid-2020s. Hard to know what’s next. I’ve noticed in recent years dealer stocks are loaded with well-appointed vehicles when I’d be happier with fewer options. To order a new vehicle is a very expensive proposition.
These days, people tend to lease new vehicles. Dealers call it “Smell new every two…” Less of a commitment that way. Don’t get too attached and watch your mileage.
Now me – I’ve always bought new cars for the long haul. I think the best automotive investment is the vehicle you buy new and drive 300,000 miles for 15-20 years. Clean fluids and lubrication along with regular preventative maintenance are the best investment you can make for longevity. It remains the best way to buy a new car.