I’ve heard it said that American car manufacturers in the 1950s started to fear that their products were reaching such a peak of technological sophistication and mechanical reliability that they were in danger of becoming victims of their own success, and demand for their products would inevitably dry-up as the market became over-saturated.
So they deliberately introduced the concept of ‘fashion’ into automotive design, so that ‘this year’s model’ could always be distinguished from last year’s and thereby encouraged status-hungry consumers to be dissatisfied with their perfectly functional machines.
The resultant design modifications grew ever more outlandish so that cars from the late 50s, with their massive rear fins, elaborate chrome embellishments and ever-increasing dimensions became the ultimate symbol of America’s economic miracle.
They didn’t care too much about gas-consumption back in those days.
Move forward to the 1980s, and possibly thanks to the 70’s oil crisis, we had cars that were boring to look at, but could return 50 miles to the gallon and work reliably for 200,000 miles or more if regularly serviced.
If we move forward another 30 years to the present day we find that little has changed. Obviously the boffins were too busy perfecting particle accelerators and inventing the internet to try and make the average car more fuel efficient or long-lived.
Note from the editor: this photograph is the third in a series called “Consumption” that seeks to document consumerism’s impact on the environment. From resource extraction and commodity production all the way down the supply chain to retail stores and waste processing facilities, Richard artfully examines what nature has come to mean in a world that depends on buying stuff.