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Automobile Nostalgia

Automobile Nostalgia

The industry brings back some older models without any of the cool parts

There’s been a slew of resurrected models recently. The Jeep Wagoneer, Jeep Gladiator, Hummer EV, Ford Bronco, and Land Rover Defender are among the latest since 2020. The nostalgic feeling they’re tapping into is one of freedom to roam deep into forests and climb lofty heights, freedom to repair your vehicle with your own hands; in a pinch if necessary. It’s an off the grid, rugged, American nostalgia, but these new vehicles share none of that freedom.  Below we’ll explore nostalgia in the automobile industry as my fellow Pamphleteer writer, Jerod Hollyfield, did with film.

Previously, we’ve pointed out the forced march of the auto industry to a world of electric vehicles: financial incentives for both EV producers and purchasers, subsidies for charging stations, and rising fuel economy standards that discourage gas vehicle production. There’s even talk from Washington and California, the great vanguards of progressivism, about phasing out new gas vehicle sales by some arbitrary date. Autonomous driving is to be ushered in soon after for the safety of the occupants.

In the race to a driverless future, all of the top innovators are hard at work realizing a beautiful vision of the streets where vehicles communicate with one another to ferry you around like a king in his stagecoach with enough onboard entertainment to stave off any existential panic, the jolt of a suspensionless wooden coach replaced with the jolt of a software failure. Of the new 2022 offerings you’ll find mostly redesigns of current models and new electric models. There are a handful of resurrected models and even fewer new gas models.

Auto nostalgia is an easy short-term solution to keep the market colorful during the transition to this future. Instead of drafting up an entirely new gas model — the platform they believe is going to the grave — they just redesign a classic. Most of these redesigns are analogous to a current best seller. The new Wagoneer steals sales from the Tahoe, Yukon, and Escalade, and the Bronco from the Wrangler. The Defender certainly mimics current cars like the Honda Element and the Jeep Renegade, but since it’s twice the cost, Land Rover likely just stole sales from itself with this one.

Modern throwbacks are retro in name only. Their ancestors are so coveted, to this day, because the vehicle is fully yours. You can do any repairs in your own driveway and many repairs on the fly. Their resurrected selves require a dealer specialist and it takes twice the amount of effort to reach a problem because there are twice the number of parts. In the wake of the microchip shortage, the market reflected the value of used cars in the modern world. In January, someone paid more for a pristine 22 year old Ford F-350 than the price of a new one, and the reporter’s response was “Please, I'm begging you, stop paying new-car prices for decades-old vehicles online” - He’s undoubtedly an agent of the industry.

If you’re looking to get the rundown on the throwbacks, you’ll likely run into a wall of industry propaganda. Among the internet’s car review sites, there’s an overwhelming love affair with the cars mentioned above; some light criticisms make it through the veil because they likely couldn’t be avoided. I poked my head up from old Jeep forums to find sites like Car and Driver and gushing with phony adoration. Disgusted with the sight, I retreated to my forum hole where I scavenged for personal accounts. For the sake of time, I limited this research to the Wagoneer and Bronco, the latest and greatest of the throwbacks.

The 2021-2022 Wagoneer forums tell a story of early adopters being unknowingly enlisted as the testers of a product. Owners are finding themselves going in and out of the shop on a regular basis. Apart from the many bugs in the software that chalk up to annoyances, common problems include: exterior panels do not match up, steering failures, 4x4 engaging at random and can't be disengaged, the blind spot monitoring system aggressively redirecting the car, folding side mirrors won’t open up, steering that locks up while driving, and the vehicle simply shutting off in transit. All this for a starting price of $88,000. Of the two new Bronco models (different size, engines, and transmissions), the Bronco Sport has had far more failures. Nashville’s Global Motorsports stopped selling the Sports because of the numerous problems.

Of 2022-Q1 US car sales, the Bronco Sport ranked 11th in its class, the full sized Bronco ranked 10th, and the Wagoneer ranked 6th. The Bronco Sport is the only one that was being made this time last year, and it’s selling 25% better in Q1 of 2022 than in Q1 of 2021. It seems nostalgia will keep them afloat.
There’s a man named Norbert who rebuilds late 80’s and early 90’s Grand Wagoneers so completely and with such rigor that it takes him and his team 18-24 months to complete each one. The final product has modernized performance but remains durable, fixable, and independent of the grid and it’s all done at the cost of the new Grand Wagoneer. In his own words, he's dedicated his "life to the preservation, improvement and continuation of the Grand Wagoneer legacy in the US, and abroad." This is true nostalgia, and I believe we will see more of it.