Sunday, 10 January 2010

Similitude on the streets? No thanks.

SAAB's new 9-5; not to be.

It would seem, sadly, that the closure of SAAB is a done deed. Despite hopeful rumours of a collaboration including Bernie Ecclestone, insiders state that the SAAB 9-5 line is already being dismantled, to be shipped to Buick's China plant by the end of the week. It's sad, as I've got quite a soft spot for SAABs - they've always been individual, rather pleasant to look at, and, so I understand, the choice of the enthusiast.

It seems even more of a shame when we consider the car they were poised to launch, the new 9-5. Here is a car which is pretty, slightly retro - look at a 900 saloon and you'll see what I mean - and likely to be rather good. Yet because GM consider the company economically unviable, we are to be denied this streak of eccentricism amongst the corporate car-parks crammed with 5-Series, A6, and E-Class Mercedes.

Now for something completely different, although trust me, I'm going somewhere with it. Scrappage. Those of you who know me will know that whilst I'm no advocate of the idea of destroying perfectly usable cars, I reckon the scrappage scheme deals with the problem of galvanised cars quite well. Let me explain. Before cars were galvanised, terminal rot sorted the wheat from the chaff. In these days of rust-free Rover 75s and blister-proof Bee-Ems, there has become a glut of perfectly serviceable old tat, and scrappage cuts this down.

The problem is that it removes the wrong examples. Granny's mint Rover 45 that's been cleaned twice a week and used once a week since new is more likely to be traded in than the Mondeo bought for £500 with a million miles on the clock. Why? Because those who have kept their cars well are in a better financial position, by and large, than those who drive beat-up old bangers. They can well afford the money needed to get into a Ford Ka or Perodua Myvi, and save both £2000 and the hassle of finding a buyer for their old car.

There's another issue. There is no maximum cut off age. Government figures indicate that over 150 tax exempt cars have been crushed, with a further 800+ crushed Cortinas and Cavaliers et al dating from before 1984. I know of a Rover P6 V8, a Triumph Mayflower, and an SD1 which have gone to meet their maker. I also know of a Bond Equipe and a Riley RM granted last minute stays of execution by offers from buyers.

Now I'm going to make my point. I've been speaking to my friend Keith about the demise of SAAB and he made the interesting observation that individuality on the roads is shortly to be a thing of the past, predicting Subaru as the next casualty of the recession. I reckon the same argument can be applied to the scrappage scheme. Yes, the current scheme is due to end on the 28th of February, but I would bet my last penny that during my lifetime there will be an enforced scrappage scheme for any car over the age of ten years. If we want to save any examples of older cars, they must be preserved in museums. Couple this to the loss of companies such as SAAB and the future of motoring is looking pretty bleak.

I envisage a day, in the grand scheme of things not too far into the future, in which we are all driving Identikit blobs with a wheel at each corner. When every car feels the same to drive, is the same to look at, is equally roomy, quick, and economical, when the passion has left motoring. God in heaven, it'll be dull. But it need not be. Those of you in the market for a new car, take advantage of scrappage if you must. But buy something different. After a 3-Series, buy a Subaru Legacy. A Focus? Certainly sir, the new Impreza is perfect for you. 5-Series? Try a Caddy CTS. And keep the roads a varied place.

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