The cars you’re allowed to buy today are the cars that the government allows to be manufactured. But what kinds of cars might we be able to buy if the government got out of the car business and left the designing of cars to the automakers and the buying of cars to customers? What if we could buy what we wanted and not buy what they didn’t want us to buy?
There would certainly be more variety, including very basic cars priced around $8,000 or even less marketed to teens or first-time buyers or the frugal of all ages. The current market for inexpensive cars is currently being filled, artificially, by used cars. New cars are too expensive for teens or first-time buyers and of little interest to the frugal.
The average price paid for a new car is over $35,000, and that’s not counting the taxes and insurance that go with the car, which is why many people buy used cars instead.
Imagine being able to buy a brand-new car with no miles on the engine, no worries about bald tires or bad brakes or rust with the whole thing under warranty for around $8,000 or so.
This vehicle price point would also cost you a fourth of the taxes and insurance.
Such cars are being made (and sold) in other countries where it is still allowed to make and sell new cars without six airbags and the physical structure necessary to “comply” with government impact-resistance edicts. They are not primitive cars, either. Most come with AC and a stereo and power windows, too.
For example, there is the Datsun Redi-Go. It’s a Cadillac compared with a ’70s-era VW Beetle, but it costs less than a ’70s-era Beetle cost when it was new. About $8,000. You get AC, power windows, and a 67 horsepower three-cylinder engine plus heat!
For other examples of cars you’re not allowed to buy that are for sale elsewhere, have a look here.
In France, teens can buy low-speed microcars that cost half as much as those cars, and they don’t even need a license to use them to get around. This gives them personal mobility at low-cost American teens are denied.
They would also be highly fuel-efficient cars because it would be feasible to build extremely light cars. These kinds of cars aren’t allowed to be built (here) due to safety concerns, however.
A light car isn’t unsafe or unstable. It is merely less able to withstand impact forces if there is a crash. The distinction is essential. Millions of people drove old VW Beetles and other such cars without receiving a scratch because they did not crash. Motorcycles are just as “safe” as an S-Class Benz if you don’t crash.
People used to be free to choose a light, very efficient car (and can still choose to ride a motorcycle) that is desirable for those reasons—at the theoretical cost of increased risk of injury in the event of a serious crash that will probably never happen.
Imagine what a 50 MPG-capable diesel engine in a 3,400 lb. car could deliver in a car that weighed 1,000 lbs. less. Volkswagen was working on such a car, the XL1. It was an ultra-light diesel-hybrid-powered commuter car capable of averaging more than 200 MPG. It would have been almost twice as efficient as any car you’re allowed to buy here with extremely low emissions by dint of being so efficient. The less fuel burned, the less gas emitted.
VW intended to offer it for sale around $20,000.
Such a car would have made electric cars even more absurd than they already are, which is why VW was curb-stomped and the XL1 project kyboshed.
If these kinds of cars were permitted, there would be less homogeneity.
Designers would be able to experiment to see whether people liked what they came up with as future cars. They could offer up weird and strange and beautiful designs as they once did but no longer can. It is currently impossible because it is illegal to manufacture and offer for sale cars like a ’59 Cadillac or a Lotus 7.
There are no Subaru Brats, no topless short-wheelbase Broncos, Amphicars, or cab-forward Corvair vans. No more T-tops. No more rear-facing seats. And no what-might-have-been
Too bad auto designers are not free to let their imaginations run wild and let the market decide.
Instead, there is government-decreed sameness, from plastic-covered bumper to plastic-covered bumper.
And they all look just the same.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.