General Automotive Trivia



Alfred Sloan. He wasn’t a taxman, but his "invention" takes a chunk out of every paycheck you make.


Sloan was chairman of General Motors, and in the 1920s, he developed what became known as "planned obsolescence." He noticed that new cars each year didn’t offer any innovations, so there was no real reason for buyers to purchase a new car over a used one.

His concept was to make small improvements in a car’s design (usually external) each year, and then to give each model a complete redesign every three or four years. This gave car salesmen a way to keep the public wanting the latest edition, which had "sleeker lines," "larger windows," a "more powerful engine" or "more chrome." The object was to make car owners jealous of the newer vehicles, and it worked wonderfully.

Today, "planned obsolescence" is a strategy incorporated into many of the devices we use every day, from cellular telephones to kitchen gadgets to home computers. If you enjoy playing the latest PC games, you’ve likely plunked down money for a new video card, more memory or a whole new computer in the last couple years. That makes you a victim of Sloan’s brilliant scheme.



Before SUVs and minivans, there were station wagons. But why did we call them that?


Although most folks picture the classic Town & Country woody when they think station wagon, the concept actually dates back to Ford’s Model T.

Several independent manufacturers purchased Model T chassis (for about $700) and then added a wooden wagon-style body to them. These vehicles were called "depot hacks" and were used by taxi drivers ("hacks") to pick up passengers and cargo at train stations ("depots"). In those days, virtually all long-distance travel was done by train, and there was a great demand for vehicles that could transport passengers and large amounts of luggage comfortably from station to home.

Over time, when "depots" became known as "stations" and the "wagon" vehicles were used by regular folk and not just "hacks," the term "depot hack" evolved into "station wagon."

The Star Motor Company released the first production station wagons in 1923. Six years later, Ford jumped on the bandwagon and introduced the Model A, making it the first popularly-priced station wagon. Chrysler’s 1941 Town & Country was the first station wagon to stray away from the traditional boxy design, producing a wagon that more closely resembled a sedan.

Although several of today’s vehicles resemble station wagons (the Chrysler Pacifica comes to mind), the true "station wagon era" more-or-less ended in the United States 1996 when Buick ceased production of its 18-foot-long luxury Roadmaster model. It was, at the least, the last car unashamed to refer to itself by the term "station wagon."



How come even the queasiest travelers never seem to get carsick when they’re behind the wheel?


Carsickness is (like seasickness and airsickness) a form of motion sickness. The body’s equilibrium and sense of balance are controlled in the inner ear. We actually have two types of equilibrium: static and dynamic. Static controls the orientation of the head and body in relation to the ground, while dynamic handles the body’s orientation relative to sudden movement or motion.

While you’re riding in a car, your eyes might focus on another passenger, the interior of the car, or a book, and they’re telling your brain that you’re not in motion. (Well, you are just sitting there, after all.) Meanwhile, your inner ear knows otherwise – it senses the car’s movement and knows your body is in motion, and it’s trying to convince the brain of that fact. The brain is getting very mixed signals, and its usual solution to the problem is expelling the stomach’s content with the ol’ Technicolor yawn.

The driver, on the other hand, is focusing his eyes in the distance. He looks at the road and registers movement. He is control of the accelerator and the brake, so he anticipates stops and starts and the accompanying bodily movements. All of this static equilibrium information matches what his inner ear is detecting, and the driver’s tummy remains calm, cool and collected, no matter how much beef jerky he consumes along the way.