Our good doctor laments the increasing homogeneity of automobiles.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Our good doctor laments the increasing homogeneity of automobiles.

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JOHOR Sultan Ibrahim 
Sultan Iskandar’s magnificent blue 34-year-old, original specification Proton Saga puttered its way to the Senai International Airport, resplendent with colour matched wheel hubs. 
Through the open passenger side window in full view of the gathered press photographers radiated the unmistakable grin on the Prime Minister’s face. 
Of course he was having fun. This veritable automotive icon was his brainchild, and 
has become the immediately recognisable symbol of his country’s fulminant economic and industrial ambition. 
So imagine my disappointment when I turned up at the rental counter at Penang International Airport, booking for a Saga in hand, and was handed the keys to a Nissan Almera. 
What exactly is the point of a Nissan in Malaysia? That’s like visiting Sydney and giving the Opera House a miss. 
With rentals, though, that is par for the course. The contract does after all state that you get the car you chose “or similar”. 
Something similar happened in the Atlanta, when I had booked a Dodge Challenger. 
I looked forward to burbling into a drive-thru burger joint, aviators on and with 
arm dangling casually out the side in my muscle car. What’s the worst that could 
happen with the “or similar” clause here, a V6 ‘Stang? Wrong. With no small amount of larger than life heartiness, I was congratulated on a free upgrade... to a BMW 430i. 
For heaven’s sake, the American 101st Airborne Division did not drop into occupied France and roll into Munich so people could come to the land of the free and drive BMWs. 
Thankfully, the otherwise nonplussed counter staff  was amused by that protestation, and switched me to a Cadillac. It’s no pony car, but at least it’s from Detroit. 
Proton Saga, Dodge Challenger, FSO Polonez, Trabant and, may its soul rest in peace, the utterly beguiling and big-hearted Aussie brute, the Holden Commodore. 
All heroes of their time, carrying forward with gumption the spirit of the countries that gave them life. Think of Italy, and the shrieks of mid-mounted V8’s echo in your mind. 
Think Germany, and a sleek estate punching an RS6 shaped hole in the air at 250km/h fills the imagination. Variety is the spice of life, and you can take a tour around the world, catching glimpses of many countries’ very souls simply through the act of driving their cars. 
Alas, as it is with fashion, 
the world is becoming an increasingly homogenous place. Globalisation, international partnerships, corporate conquests, platform sharing and simple technological progression have made cars overwhelmingly similar in how they feel. 
MINI may stick a union jack motif in the tail-lights, but only the faintest whimper of God Save The Queen makes it through the very BMW-esque silence. 
Cars are objectively better, no doubt, and very few people would trade the quality we have now for crunching to a halt every 500m in a rickety Alfa, but I do hanker for the vibrance of their ancestors. 
There is no better illustration of this situation than the all-consuming behemoth 
that is Volkswagen. 
Economies of scale, they say, and the MQB platform is without doubt a fantastic engineering achievement. All cars built on those bones are brilliant and worthy of purchase. 
Drive a Seat Leon, sweet child of Spain, and do you feel the hooves of running bulls beneath your feet? Do you taste in the air a hint of paella? No you do not. It feels like a Golf because it is a Golf. 
On to a Skoda Octavia, built by kamarads of the Czech Republic. Does it skip the step of the Bohemian Polka as your dance your way down the street? Emphatically not. It feels like a Golf because it is a Golf. 
Perhaps with the industry- disrupting progression into the post fossil-fuel future we might have a reawakening of character in our cars from diff erent places. 
I, for one, am looking very much forward to the Dyson electric car supposedly to be built in Singapore. 
Virtually nothing is known of it yet, but given the company’s reputation it could very 
well turn out to be uniquely Singaporean in virtue. 
Clean, nonchalantly competent, glistening with tech and forward thinking. Oh… just like a Golf. 


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