This week, Prior delves more into the grim practice of car subscriptions and vehicular etymology…
After my irate column of 16 August on the subject of people being asked to pay ongoing fees to use features in their cars, I think I’ve put my finger on what irritates me most about it.
It’s the idea that a manufacturer wants to retain some kind of stake in or ownership of a product long after you’ve bought and paid for it.
I’ve had a lot of correspondence on this. Only a few people have said they think it’s okay, but I suspect I will remain unconvinced regardless of the elegance of the arguments or analogies. The vast majority agree that it’s a grim practice.
Accordingly, BMW will stop charging such fees for hardware-based features (although not for software-based features) on its future cars.
Sales and marketing boss Pieter Nota told us at the Munich motor show: “We thought that we would provide an extra service to the customer by offering the chance to activate that later, but the user acceptance isn’t that high.
People feel that they paid double, which was actually not true, but perception is reality, I always say. So that was the reason we stopped that.”
My analogy is to imagine a property developer building 1000 houses to the same design, all with an en suite bathroom, because it’s cheaper than troubling the builders to make some with, some without.
So you buy one, move in and love it. What a place, and it’s all yours! But what’s that behind this door? Ah, now that, say the developers, is an extra bathroom, but you can only access it if you give them £30 a month in perpetuity.
I think if that happened, there would be lots of doors kicked in. So should there be here.
The origins of the word ‘supercar’
Researching the origin of the word ‘supercar’ (or ‘super-car’) for my column of 30 August, I found that it got its first outing in Autocar in an advert in 1915 and in an article (about aero-engined specials) in 1921.
My reading was, however, limited to our digital archive (subscriptions sold here, would make a great present, etc).
In Man of Speed, the biography of engineer Reid Railton by estimable historian and author Karl Ludvigsen, he mentions that the term also appeared in a 1921 issue of The Motor, a weekly magazine much later incorporated into Autocar.
There it referenced, rather than a general idea, a specific machine. ‘First Descriptions of the Performance of a British Super-car in which Originality and Unconventionality are Prominently Characterised’, ran the headline on the Leyland Eight, designed by Railton and his gaffer, Leyland chief engineer JP Parry-Thomas.
Parry-Thomas, a setter of many speed records, would later race a special-bodied version of the car, dubbed the Leyland-Thomas, at Brooklands, lapping the circuit at 129.73mph.
It’s often unclear which car is the first of any genre, and Ludvigsen is inclined to discount the word when used by manufacturers in adverts, although as it not long after entered general vernacular, I’m more relaxed about that.
The Eight wasn’t the first car of its type, but if one is looking for the first specific model that was independently referred to as a supercar and certainly thought of as one, it could be that.
Are car parking providers easing up?
Twice this year I’ve appealed against private car park penalty notices and succeeded (kudos to NCP for its one, which I didn’t think it was obligated to).
Meanwhile, at short notice, I’ve just delayed a Europcar hire car’s return by a good few hours and been told there’s no extra fee.
Am I lucky, or have parking and car hire providers, so often maligned, recently become more consumer-friendly?