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While I was out walking the other day, a light aircraft flew overhead.

Nothing unusual about that; with its single engine, whirring away gently like they do, it milled across the sky like it could have been any time during the past 70 years. 

Then I walked past somebody who was wearing tweed; which, again, is not uncommon round my way – the peculiarly, slightly disconcertingly old-fashioned bit of Middle England where trousers of colour outnumber people of colour by an alarming ratio. 

Anyway, there’s a reason for tweed: it’s late summer, after all, so it's starting to get a bit cooler. Perhaps, I thought, when I get home, I’ll warm the house up by setting fire to a lump of wood. 

Odd, isn’t it? All of these pieces of – for want of a better word – technology have been surpassed. Or could have been, if we’d wanted to surpass them. Perhaps I’m stretching the point a little with the light aircraft, but there are far more ‘technical’ fabrics than tweed, far more efficient and less time-consuming ways to heat one corner of one room of a house by seasoning wood for three years and then burning it. But, here we are, yearning for the inefficient: owning a range cooker, mowing lawns ourselves when a robotic mower would do it better, buying vinyl or, indeed, using a classic car. 

‘Eschew’ is a banned word in the Autocar style guide for the good reason that it makes you sound
 like a div, but when it comes to modernising elements of our lives, it fits. There is a great deal of eschewery of the latest things going on. I could control the temperature of my home via an app, on a phone. Apparently some people even do. But somehow it is nicer to watch flames flicker and burn. And then go out. And then flicker. And fade again and… I don’t know, I think it would have been easier if I’d just put the heating on. 

I don’t think this is nostalgia.
 At least, not in the accepted sense. 
I just think there comes a point in
 the development of things when
 we accept that technological advancement has served us well enough. Neither the plate, nor the fork, say, has needed any further tinkering for quite some years. It’s possible to buy an electric, even digital, salt dispenser. But why would you? Things are not just fine. They are good. They are enough. 

Which leaves the car where exactly? When it comes to motor racing, it is, I suspect, done. The spectacle probably peaked when cars were at their noisiest and wildest and drivers at their most visible, which is why classic car racing is so popular, regardless of how tech-laden some racing series, contested by companies with cars to flog, have become. 

In the road car market, though, we’re not done. We can’t be. It’s an odd time. Too many people die, we sit in queues for too long and air quality is too bad. It has been for decades, yet only now do we seem to have noticed. 


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And yet? And yet still few people buy an electric car. Active safety systems remain negligible reasons for buying one. For all of the modern car’s faults and drawbacks, there’s something of the salt cellar about it. It just fits, albeit sometimes uncomfortably, into our lives. To move on, I think we’ll have to be pushed. I wonder when it will be? No idea. But I don’t doubt it’ll be worth it when we get there. 

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Mikey C 25 September 2017

Modern technology is about

Modern technology is about making driving easier and make it harder to crash, whereas in motorsport I want to see the driver struggle to keep the car on the track, to see the skill involved in making a brute of a machine stay on the track, and go past other drivers, not for it to be all about technology.

Otherwise the logical progression is for the cars to be controlled by a "gamer" from the pitlane!

Shrub 23 September 2017

And then there is pointless technology

Some advances make life easier but are a little soulless but some technological developments are just there for the sake of being there, I'm thinking electric handbrakes; slower, less reliable, yes they save a bit of space on the centre tunnel but otherwise less effective than the old way of doing things. That's the sort of tat we should be binning.

Speedraser 22 September 2017

About why we aren't buying

About why we aren't buying more electric cars: Enough with the notion that because nothing comes out of an exhaust pipe they're going to save the world. What matters from an environmental perspective is the impact on the environment from "cradle to grave" -- the complete cycle from manufacturing, through use of the car, to disposal of the car at the end of its "life." Manufacturing electric motors, which use rare-earth metals, is very UNfriendly to the environment. Manufacturing batteries is NOT frendly to the environment. When the electric utilities are powered by fossil fuels and coal, producing the electricity to charge an electric car is not friendly to the environment. At the end of the car's life, disposal of batteries is NOT friendly to the environment. I'm not suggesting that we should not make or buy electric cars, nor that they may ultimately be better for the world overall. What I object to is the continued perpetuation of the idea that electric cars great for the environment. The vast majority of people I speak to who own or are considering owning an electric car NEVER think about any of these issues -- they ONLY think they'll have a car that "doesn't pollute." If people want electric cars, that's great, but we should be properly informed of the good AND the bad.

Bazzer 22 September 2017

I kind of agree.  I own an

I kind of agree.  I own an electric car (i3) and all I thought about was that I wouldn't be contributing to the smoke in my town.  But that's because the things like making (or spent) batteries can be dealt with at source.  But once your car emits PM10s, or whatever, into the atmosphere, there's no way of getting at it to clean it.  So I would agree that my electric car isn't "great for the environment" but at least it isn't wafting smoke all over kids as they walk to school.  And that's a start.