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Opinion: The curse of producing unattainable dream cars

By Tim Keen, 15 Mar 2020 Features

Unattainable dream cars cause future problems feature

Like American football, selling unattainable sports cars risks shutting the door on young fans

What does Porsche have in common with America’s National Football League (NFL)? The answer involves Batman and pies. Sort of.

There are two types of aspirations, and I don’t mean naturally and forced. I mean realistic and pie-in-the-sky. I mean the difference between an attainable goal and a daydream that has no chance of coming true. For example, I aspire to lose 10 kilos. Which is a realistic aim. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky daydream, although the pie in my hand suggests it won’t happen this year. Again.

On the other hand, I secretly still aspire to be Batman. But I have no expectations that it will ever come to pass, and not because I’d need to lose more than 10 kilos. It’s simply an unattainable goal, which is why I don’t even try. And that’s smart. Chasing unattainable goals is a ticket to misery. 

Which is why Porsche is becoming the NFL.

Take a look at a 1977 copy of Wheels. (Ugh, Wheels. I know. But I didn’t have a 1977 copy of Modern Motor handy.) I picked 1977 because it was the year I was born. (I mean, uh, the year some old bastard I know was born. Me, I’m still young and radical. Do young people still say radical? Pardon me while I look at some memes on the TikTok.)

Anyway. Wheels, 1977. (The cover story? A four-way comparo between a Cortina, a Corona, a Passat and a Datsun 180B! For the record, the Cortina won.) A Porsche 911 Coupe cost $21,348. An XC Falcon sedan cost $5172. The Bureau of Statistics says the average annual income in 1977 was $10,960, so the Falcon cost you six months’ wages, and the 911 cost you just under two years’ wages.

Today the median salary in Australia is $55K. So a Ford Mondeo costs about eight months’ salary… and the “cheapest” Porsche 911 costs more than four years’ salary.

MOTOR opinion: Today's performance cars are cheap

So everyday family cars have gotten a little more expensive – but top-shelf sports cars have become crazy, only-for-the-children-of-oligarchs expensive.

“So? They’re aspirational!” huffs the Porsche fanboy.

But they’re the wrong sort of aspirational.

Porsche is effectively teaching youngsters that owning a 911 is like being Batman: if you’re a billionaire orphan, then maybe, but for the rest of us – don’t even try.

Related: New rear-engined V10 Batmobile revealed

And that’s fine, as long as the current crop of rich folk are still buying 911s. The problem is a decade down the track, when the current 911 buyers are being put into care homes and the next generation doesn’t show up to replace them because they’ve been taught not to try.

This is a real problem. The same thing has the billionaire owners of American NFL teams sweating into their Pappy Van Winkle.

One of the problems the NFL faces – besides everyone dying of concussions and the fact that not even the referees understand pass interference – is that youngsters today are more likely to grow up as basketball fans than football fans. Fans who attend a live game by age five will attend 58 per cent more live games over the rest of their life, compared with fans who first attend a game aged 14 or older. Making young fans matters.

But there’s a thing in the United States called the Fan Price Index, which measures how much it costs to attend live sports, across basketball and football and baseball and ice hockey and whatever. And what the Index says is that young people and families with kids aren’t going to the football, because it’s too expensive. They’re going to the basketball instead. And now the NFL is desperately trying to recruit young fans, before they wake up a decade from now to find they’ve become a relic, like candlepin bowling or honest elections.

Porsche is clearly still riding high, and far be it for me to tell the Germans how to organise something – I couldn’t organise an emissions test in a VW factory. But if Porsche keeps getting further out of reach for buyers, then one day they’ll find that buyers are out of reach for them.

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