Been shopping for a new car lately, was a decade and 124,000 miles ago when I paid $17,000 including taxes for an ’03 VW Golf TDI diesel. During that decade millions of workers lost their jobs and wages stagnated, and one would think new vehicle prices would have at least kept to the rate of inflation. Electronics have dropped in price while adding features, the housing market is a bargain hunter’s paradise if you’ve got cash or good credit, and about the only thing that’s gotten pricier is food, fuel, and vehicles.

Why?

Well, I’m still tick’d about all the unwanted gadgetry I was forced to buy with that 2003 Golf TDI- I can wind windows up and down myself quite well, thank you. And those ten or so speakers are kind of a waste in an upholstered tin can anyway. But I still was allowed to shift for myself and there were even knobs on the quite excellent radio. Good luck finding a manual transmission today, and the radios are hiding behind video game like displays… Should I really have to go through menus at 75 MPH just to switch from MPR to KBEM Jazz 88? Sure it’s got bluetooth, but I don’t mix driving and business. And at every dealership I find cars similarly packed and prices jacked with useless gadgets, pushing even a so-called economy car into the $20k and beyond price range.

Good thing I’m not replacing my 1998 Ranger, which Ford conveniently discontinued. In it’s place Ford proffers $30k F150s that get worse mileage and don’t haul enough more than the Ranger to matter. Maybe $25k for a 2 wheel drive if you can find a truck only dealer like Boyer in an aging industrial zone, and these “he man” trucks only come with automatics. Want to take an end run around this lunacy by buying a 30 MPG compact car and a trailer to haul your tools and stuff? Most of the automakers have banned trailer towing with their cars and will void the warranty if you try. Ain’t much better if you need a big truck for work, what with GM leaving that market and Ford all but abandoning it, leaving you to try to bargain with International and Daimler. Need a really big truck? There’s only four suppliers left, and there’s little chance to shop for the engine and transmission of your choice everywhere… Your stuck with the truck manufacturer’s engine or maybe Cummins.

So you decide to fix up your old vehicle and hang on to it awhile longer… “Cept Volvo seems to be discontinuing parts for Mack trucks built as recently as 7 years ago, VW has no printed manuals anymore and charges $35 a day to view them online, and those manuals assume you have the manufacturers multi thousand dollar diagnostic system that works on nothing else to do diagnosis. 

Now if we were all earning living wages and later enjoying our old age pensions this’d be no problem… We’d just buy a new vehicle every few years like we did to the tune of twenty million a year like we used to and pay the dealer to fix it. But wages for new hire union autoworkers have been beaten down into the $14-15 an hour range, and at the nonunion plants in the south starting pay is only $11-12 an hour and don’t expect any raises. And it’s all downhill from there, with wages at supplier plants often less than $10 an hour, while many construction workers who used to buy a profitable new pickup every year are still unemployed.

So the math is pretty simple: low wage workers simply can’t spare a year’s wages to buy a new car, bein’ as they gotta pay rent and buy food and such too. Yet the deluded automakers dream of twenty million vehicles a year sales, which given that there are over 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S. would only require said drivers to buy a new one every decade or so. But all but the top earning 20% of those drivers are paid too little to afford new cars, and the lowest paid 20% or so are leaving the auto market entirely for transit and bicycles. 

Henry Ford, Soichiro Honda, Alec Issigonis, Hans Ledwinka and Nikola Tesla have left the industry. Heck, they probably couldn’t even get into an MBA program these days and wouldn’t last a day on the assembly line, probably get fired for unauthorized improving of the product. So we’re left with lumbering and blundering corporations, led by MBA “whiz kids” who couldn’t balance a family budget… Never mind figure out why the workers they underpay aren’t buying their overpriced products.

Maybe we need another “sit down strike” to save their sorry MBA asses… And ours!

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