Thought Leadership

My perspective on cars

By Colin Walls

In modern society cars are totally ubiquitous. Almost everyone has one and many people gain a lot of pleasure from driving. I recall someone suggesting that, if aliens were observing us from space, they might easily assume that the automobile was the dominant life-form and that they were suffering a parasitic infestation by odd, 2-legged beings. That is an extremely unusual perspective on cars, but there really are quite a few ways to look at vehicles …

So, what is a car? Fundamentally, it is just a means of transportation – a tin box in which to go from A to B. That is exactly how I regard my car. I like the tin box to have enough power and to have a few extra facilities, but, ultimately, I am completely motivated by practicalities. When I bought my car [about 10.5 years ago], I had a clear idea of what I wanted, from a functional perspective, and I had a budget. I could not have predicted what car I would buy, as I had very little knowledge or interest in cars. In the end, I got a car that did exactly what I wanted and only spent 90% of my budget. I ensure that the car is properly serviced etc. and plan to keep it “until the wheels fall off” – perhaps not literally! The car looks slightly battered, but there is no real sign of rust, and it has something over 140,000 miles on the clock. Being a diesel engine, it is just about run in now.

For so many people, a car is a [very expensive] status symbol. They must have a new model, which is showroom perfect and, of course, of a prestigious marque. I would find driving such a car quite stressful. I am totally unconcerned about the odd scratch or dink, as my car is now almost worthless and I have had good value. I would be very sad if my car died sometime soon, as it continues to do its job well and is now an old friend. If someone makes a judgement about me, based on my scruffy, humble car, then I just feel sorry for them having such shallow values. The very idea of having a preconception about someone, because of the kind of tin box they roll up in, just seems ludicrous.

I am fine about driving, as an activity. I do not do it for enjoyment, but I do not hate it either; it is just another chore that I try to do moderately well. I have observed that many drivers [commonly, but not exclusively, young and male] regard driving as a competitive sport. This upsets me when it results in careless, dangerous or even just discourteous driving. But I am amused when I am, for example, waiting at some lights and there is a guy in a flash car right next to me, who is determined to get away first. I never put any effort into it, as I do not care. But, as my car can be quite quick off the mark, I am often amused by the result.

An aspect of cars, that I always find frustrating, is usage level. I have used my car for all of about 20 minutes today. But I need to pay for its existence for the other 1420 minutes of the day, during which the car was idle. Is it worth me owning the car at all? I do sometimes wonder. I could walk to many places and maybe get a bus/train/taxi for the rest of the time. I could also rent a car on the odd occasion when driving is the only sensible thing to do. I could also join the local car club. You just pay a modest annual fee, grab a car when you want one and just pay for the time/miles you use. As we have two cars, these matters are under consideration. On the other had, the cost of ownership of my old car is now very low.

Our other car is Libby’s, which I gave her as a wedding present when we were married, nearly six years ago. Giving her a brand new vehicle was a somewhat less pragmatic approach to car purchase than I might expect of myself. But it was a special case. I figured that she had never owned a brand new car before and had never had a “fun” car – just driving whatever was available. Although it was a fun car that I bought [a Fiat 500], it has proved very practical.

We are considering the next step with regard to car ownership. I am convinced that, in 2-3 year’s time, electric vehicles will become more practical [with improved range and charge times] and, hence, become mainstream. As their cost of running is quite low, internal combustion engine cars will start to lose value. So, we plan to invest in an electric car quite soon – probably a modest, used model, not a Tesla etc. Sadly, that will probably mean trading in Libby’s car, as it has a reasonable residual value [for the moment] and my car has almost none.

I am excited by the possibilities of electric vehicles. Although modern, conventional cars are a marvel of modern design and engineering, nothing really different has been achieved. In effect, a car is just a horse and cart with the horse replaced by an engine, which sits at the front pulling the car along. Electric propulsion offers so many more possibilities. At its simplest, providing power to each wheel individually is very easy to achieve.

An aspect of EVs that I find disconcerting is the total silence with which they operate. It might even be dangerous in some circumstances, as I am sure that many of us use our ears as much as our eyes when crossing the road. In some countries, there are legislative challenges with the use of artificial noises, but I am sure that will be overcome. I can envisage a whole industry in making available fashionable, downloadable car sounds – a bit like phone ring tones. Personally, I look forward to getting “Clip clop clip clop …”


One thought about “My perspective on cars
  • Hi Colin,

    Exactly my thoughts.
    I’m driving Renault from 2000.
    I’m not afraid of somebody scratching my, or the reverse.
    In addition, the car can be repaired everywhere, with tools subtly more sophisticated than a hammer.
    Your real value is in your head, not outside.

    Best regards,
    Andrzej Telszewski

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at