On the verge of the 2020 model year
, the automobile as we knew it was undergoing the biggest change in its existence.
With signs of climate change becoming more apparent, the car was slowly transforming into an enemy for our dear planet. Associated with pollution, urban chaos and for some, a heavy financial burden, the automobile had grown into a serious social problem. Ridesharing services, e-bikes, scooters, public transportation and remote work came to the rescue of large urban centers to slow down the automobile’s impact, while strict emission standards forced automakers to transition to cleaner, more sustainable forms of propulsion.
And then, COVID-19 happened.
As governments and health officials restricted access to non-essential services, locking down entire countries and forcing civilians to remain at home in order to slow down the dreaded virus’ spread, our collective priorities suddenly changed. Big chain stores, malls, hairdressers, shiny new Cadillacs, plane rides to exotic locations, fancy cruises, fashion, fitness, Instagram models, influencers, hell- even climate change. All of it went down the drain.
Suddenly, what isn’t essential to our survival and wellbeing has no purpose. Food, shelter, health, and making sure our money remains in the bank have become our collective priority. Conversing with friends, using online technology, making sure our family members are safe and healthy, and going outside for a bike ride, a jog or a long walk constitute the core of our day to day lives.
Yet, amidst all the uncertainty, one thing remains in our lives: cars.
As an automotive journalist, I’d be lying if I was saying this crisis hasn’t heavily affected my life. Gone are the glorious days of flying to Portugal to test drive the latest BMW sports sedan. Forget new vehicle product launches altogether: the return of the Ford Bronco, the all-new Genesis G80 luxury sedan, the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo, the all-electric Ford F-150 and GMC Hummer – most, if not all of them have been cancelled. It’s the same story for the already suffering auto shows, they’re all but cancelled or postponed, and carmakers won’t even lend me vehicles for reviews by fear of being held responsible for helping spread the disease.
This is a rough patch for everyone, including us.
All of it has had me contemplating the relevance of my profession altogether. Who really cares about automotive reviews and consumer advice in a world where people stop buying new cars? And with carmakers on full lockdown, will there even be new models this year altogether?
To my astonishment, my insecurities were quelled through emails and social media reactions I’ve been receiving from my readers over the past few weeks. I’ve discovered that although everyone is going through hell now, the collective interest for the automobile remains strong. In fact, it has never been stronger than it is now.
Because while our confinement laws prevent us from regrouping and seeing each other, no law currently restricts the use of the automobile. The freedom to go out for a long drive, observe the world, pick up essential goods, carry loved ones, listen to our favorite tracks full blast, and take a break from the imprisonment of our living rooms to think, ponder, and reflect on the world is still very much ours.
As I cruised alongside the calm yet dominating Saint-Lawrence River behind the wheel of a 2020 BMW M550i – one of the last press units I was given the right to borrow before all of this happened – I couldn’t help but observe how much people cherish their automobiles during these strange times.
I witnessed beautiful things: enthusiasts behind the wheel of their shiny new machines, ready to legally take on their favorite back road. Families appreciating a Sunday joyride in their three-row SUV, couples carrying their mountain bikes to the trails in the box of their pickup truck, and relatives helping elderly loved ones get their groceries into the trunk of their midsize sedan. The automobile is no longer a nuisance. It’s a necessity.
Such respect for cars has given yours truly the motivation to continue doing his job, to pursue writing about the automobiles that continue to be in our lives during such a complicated crisis. Because while the world has stopped turning, the wheels on your car have not.