What if every product category, every business, is a bubble — and some just last longer?
We know the newspaper business was a bubble. It lasted over a century, but here we are, at the end of it. Papers will still be around, for the same reason that railroads and mainframe computers are still around. But they’ll never be what they were in their golden decades.
Television will follow. That golden age is coming to an end as well. Same with radio. These will also persist, in somewhat different forms. But the golden age is over.
I’m thinking now that we’re seeing the same thing with cars.
A few days ago I took in my old Volkswagen Passat to get the water pump replaced. Turns out lots of other stuff was worn out or broken and needed fixing too. The final bill came to around $5000, which is what I paid for the thing three years ago.
For a minute I thought about getting a new car. They’re cheaper than ever, with lots of good deals, and guarantees that would relieve me of the need to pay much for upkeep. But I decided to fix the old car instead, becuase it’s good enough. Spending $5k is better than spending $20k, especially if I don’t have to borrow the difference.
The mechanic told me his business is booming. Most car owners have awakened to the fact that cars are cars, and most of what we do with them is just drive from place to place. New cars purchases are impelled mostly by advertising and fantasy. Drive a lot of rental cars and you get hip to the obvious: the differences between cars, especially fairly new ones, isn’t large. After a few years they all plateau at a certain level of partial suckage and stay that way for the duration. You forget the quiet cabin and tight handling that turned you on in the first place. You care less about its color than just being able to find it in the parking lot. You know the noise in the heater is some rocks your kid put down the vents and won’t ever get fixed.
Now, what happens if an absence of new car fantasy prevails for the duration? What if the whole automobile business has jumped the shark, and the problem isn’t just Detroit’s?
Even if it hasn’t now, the business will falter eventually. They all do. Disruptions happen. Trees do not grow to the sky. That’s Nature’s nature, in business as well as the wilderness.
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