Badvertising: more cars, no care?

Troubled call girl Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards' "Breakfast at Tiffany's," based on the novella by Truman Capote.

In the era of climate change, one would expect less people to own an environmentally damaging car – but nothing can be further from the truth. The latest ABS survey from 2021 shows that car ownership in Canberra has increased in the last year by 2.3%, equal highest of all Australian states.

Coco Channel’s “little black number” is a dress that never seems to get old. The simple dress is a fashion icon, the product of the evolution of working class clothing to celebrity fashion. It was worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Her character Holly Golightly had a few vices, as do we all, and enjoying shopping may be one of them.

The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.

Elizabeth Taylor

Monster Trucks

Ten years ago, I read with interest that the fuel economy of the average car in Australia has been rising since the 1970s. Casual inspection of the traffic on the roads in Canberra would suggest the size of private, new vehicles is increasing. Amongst the biggest of the new vehicles is the pickup truck which, here in Australia, we would prefer to call a ute. The newest wave of trucks come from the USA. Trucks have become status symbols; the bigger, the better.

Ladies and gentlemen, by the time you will have finished your Masters you won’t like people very much anymore!

Professor Zimmermann addressing the new Psychology class of 19xx in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

The pickup truck may be of American origin, but it is no longer just an American phenomenon. One of the biggest pickups to be imported into Australia and New Zealand is the RAM 1500. The article How the Ford F-150 became king of cars puts it into perspective.

In April, Ford announced that it will be phasing out nearly all of its passenger cars in the United States.1

In the past, trucks had been marketed to farmers and business owners. These newer trucks, advertised as a more comfortable ride with larger cabins, were designed to also appeal to suburban buyers.2

“While Ford doesn’t disclose model-level profit data, it is estimated that each F-150 earns the company an operating profit of around $10,000 and generates around 90 percent of Ford’s global profits. In fact, the line of trucks is thought to be worth more than the entire company.

In general, pickup trucks, and their less-rugged siblings, SUVs, generate more profit per unit than passenger cars. According to Bloomberg, the average price of a full-size pickup truck is around $45,000, with a profit margin of roughly 25 percent; the average price of a mid-size sedan, on the other hand, is around $22,000 with a 10 percent profit margin.”3

Badvertising

New Zealand is getting worried. A new species is invading their country, worse than possums, and threatening the local wild life. With the first invasion, the giant ground flightless birds of New Zealand were quickly extinct, and a wave of extinctions followed with the introduction of wave after wave of new predators. The latest “aggressor” is a pickup, which can mow down any urban dweller. Glimpses of the emerging horrors in New Zealand can be read in a recent article: Aggressive marketing has driven the rise of the double-cab ute on New Zealand streets — time to hit the brakes?

The growth of pickups in New Zealand is being driven by regulatory weaknesses, which Australia has in common.

weak emission standards and vehicle safety ratings that prioritise drivers over other road users.”4

““Explore your inner beast.” That was the slogan used last year to sell the Ford Ranger. At 2.4 tonnes, that’s a lot of “light” truck, but the stakes are rising. This year, the 3.5 tonne Ram 1500 “eats utes for breakfast”.”5

Cyclists and pedestrians struck by one of these vehicles are roughly twice as likely to die or be seriously injured compared with a crash involving a small car.”6

“As cultural historian William Rollins has pointed out, SUV marketing has exploited and twisted a “developing environmental consciousness” into demand for high-emission vehicles. In the process, time needed to develop cleaner vehicles was lost.”7

Marketed at our “reptilian” instincts for safety, dominance and connection to the natural world, it had a strong Hobbesian flavour. Life – particularly city life – is nasty, brutish and short. One must dominate or be dominated”8

“UK organisation Badvertising, which has called for an ad ban on the dirtiest third of these vehicles, argues advertising should be “named and shamed” like other industries that indirectly contribute to climate change (such as banking and investment).”9

“Bradsher’s interviews with marketing executives revealed a deliberate strategy to market these vehicles to consumers with higher levels of egotism, insecurity and status anxiety.”10

The most commonly sold car in Australia

The most commonly sold car in Australia before COVID-19 was a Ford ute. The top three, most commonly sold cars at the time were all utes.

Here is a nice new Ford Ranger XLS – the basic model for $47,000. The better model with a few extras and the better motor will cost $57,000. This car is so popular, they are out of stock and the order will take months to fill.

Ford Ranger XLS - the basic model for $47,000. The better model with a few extras and the better motor will cost $57,000. This car is so popular they are out of stock and the order will take months to fill. Before COVID the Fords were one of the most common selling cars.
Ford Ranger XLS – the basic model for $47,000. The better model with a few extras and the better motor will cost $57,000. This car is so popular that they are out of stock and the order will take months to fill. Before COVID-19 the Fords were one of the most common selling cars. Photo: canberra.bike

People are rarely happy with the basic model. Most utes have a few extras, so that it is not so boring. The extras express personality and interest but add significantly to the cost.

Ute with a more normal - without a few extras a ute is boring. The extras express personality and interest but add to the cost.
Ute with a few extras. The extras express personality and interest but add to the cost. Photo: canberra.bike

ABS: All brawn and no brain

Who would have thought that we have an annual census of motor vehicle registrations in Australia? As the ACT is starved of data related to transport – and what we do know is often kept secret – this new data is most welcome.

There is no good news here. 😦 The ACT has the highest annual increase of motor vehicle registration of any state, only matched by Queensland and South Australia. Diesel vehicle registrations are increasing most rapidly! By segment, the highest growth rate is to be found in the “light rigid trucks”, which include utes.

Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, 31 Jan 2021, ABS, released 20 June 2021, accessed 15 August 2021.

“States and territories:
– An increase in registrations was reported in all states and territories.
Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory each reported the largest increase from the previous year (2.3%).11

Diesel vehicles increased to 26.4% of the national fleet, up from 20.9% in 2016.”12

Light rigid trucks continued to have the largest growth rate in registrations, increasing 6.0%, followed by articulated trucks with 4.6%. Passenger vehicle registrations increased by 1.2% however, their share of the fleet fell 0.4 percentage points to 73.7%.”13

Electric vehicles: splattered on the grill

ACT recent celebrated the 1000th electric vehicle sold. The first electric vehicle sold in Australia was 10 years ago. The Garnaut Climate Change Review was creating waves even longer ago than that (2008). How time flies!

ACT is one of the leading states in regard to government policy on the mitigation of climate change. With net-zero electricity, transport now makes up most of our emissions.

In 2021, the ACT had 318,148 motor vehicle registrations.14 Electrical vehicles make up just 0.3%. Problem solved! Or not? Do we need to urgently consider a mix of strategies?

The windshield phenomenon (or windscreen phenomenon) is the observation that recently fewer dead insects accumulate on the windshields of people’s cars. It has been attributed to a global decline in insect populations caused by human activity.15

Celebrating before it is really warranted. Holly Golightly’s life was an illusion created for fear of the truth.
  1. MB Talay, ‘How the Ford F-150 became king of cars’, in The Conversation, <http://theconversation.com/how-the-ford-f-150-became-king-of-cars-96255> [accessed 15 August 2021].
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. A Woodward & K Wild, ‘Aggressive marketing has driven the rise of the double-cab ute on New Zealand streets — time to hit the brakes?’, in The Conversation, <http://theconversation.com/aggressive-marketing-has-driven-the-rise-of-the-double-cab-ute-on-new-zealand-streets-time-to-hit-the-brakes-165075> [accessed 15 August 2021].
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. ‘Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, 31 Jan 2021 | Australian Bureau of Statistics’, , 2021, <https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/tourism-and-transport/motor-vehicle-census-australia/latest-release> [accessed 15 August 2021].
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. ‘Windshield phenomenon’, in Wikipedia, , 2021, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Windshield_phenomenon&oldid=1038222289> [accessed 15 August 2021].

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