As some of you know, in a former life I wrote not much about cars, except for those that were involved in auto racing. But I wrote a lot about sports, which included covering three Olympics, two sessions of the Summer Games sandwiched around the Lake Placid Winter Games (and, yes, I covered the U.S. ice hockey team’s victory over the USSR — and also the later victory over Finland that actually brought the gold medal).
One of the things I observed during my time as a sportswriter involved some of the differences between the United States and Europe; well, actually, between the United States and pretty much the rest of the world.
Here are a few examples:
• The U.S. sees football as a sport played in shoulder pads and helmets and with all players — except place kickers — using their hands. Europe and the rest of the world think football is played with feet (to the point that only the goalie can actually touch the ball with hands — or even arms). Oh, and with a ball that is round, not oblong and pointed at each end.
• In the U.S., schools and universities field sports teams. In Europe and the rest of the world, schools are for academics. Community-based clubs organize sports programs for children, teens and adults.
• In the U.S., with the possible exception of Olympic years, interest in sports revolves almost exclusively around football, basketball, baseball and, in some locations, ice hockey. But in Europe and the rest of the world, the focus is much more diverse.
Here’s just one case in point: Olympic speedskating champion Sheila Young could walk through pretty much any city in America without anyone taking notice. But she drew an admiring crowd everywhere she went whenever she was competing in Europe.
So where am I going with this commentary? Don’t I realize this website is about classic cars, not about sports?
Well, yes I do, and now I’ll get to the point: Just as things are different here and there in sports, so, too, are they with cars and those who produce them.
• In Europe, automakers embrace their history. Just three recent cases: Citroen’s stunning museum-style display at Retromobile in Paris, and the Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and even Volvo stands this week at the Techno Classica vintage vehicle show in Essen, Germany.
• Increasingly, the European automakers have opened their own restoration shops, which not only restore and maintain their corporate collections but provide vintage parts and service and sales to customers. Some, such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, even provide such services here in the United States.
• The European automakers also have company-owned and open-to-the-public museums devoted to their corporate histories and to showcase their collections of historic vehicles.
In the U.S., General Motors has a car collection, but you need special permission to visit. Ford has a long relationship with The Henry Ford, the history museum that bears the name of the auto company’s founder, and while there is a marvelous display of cars, only a few of them are Ford, Lincoln or Mercury products.
Chrysler alone had a wonderful and open-to-the-public museum, only to close it a few years ago; it recently re-opened a museum-style but much-more-limited car gallery in the former Viper assembly plant.
Perhaps it’s the pressure of their positions, but it seems to me that, with few exceptions, the American auto executives are primarily concerned about 30-day sales figures and the size of their golden-parachute packages. European and Japanese auto executives appear to take a much longer-term view — both toward the future and the past.
To wit, consider this: Volvo, a European automaker (and one with a terrific museum) has announced that, beginning with the 2021 model year, it will limit all of its new vehicles to a top speed of 112 mph.
“While a speed limitation is not a cure-all, it’s worth doing if we can even save one life,” explained Hakan Samuelsson, Volvo Car Group president.
In its announcement about the speed limiters, Volvo also said it is studying the potential for “smart” speed control and “geofencing” technology to further reduce speeds around schools.
Volvo also said it thinks factory-installed cameras might be a solution to intoxicated and distracted driving, by such means as alerting the driver, perhaps slowing the vehicle or even automatically maneuvering the car into a safe parking place.
“We want to start a conversation about whether car makers have the right or maybe even an obligation to install technology in cars that changes their driver’s behavior, to tackle things like speeding, intoxication or distraction,” Samuelsson said.
“We don’t have a firm answer to this question, but believe we should take leadership in the discussion and be a pioneer.”
You may not think such limiters are a great idea, but various European councils and commissions do and have passed to the European Union legislation requiring all new cars sold within its geographic footprint starting in 2022 are equipped with an ISL (Intelligent Speed Limiter) that assures, among other things, that none of those vehicles exceeds posted speed limits.
If the European Commission goes along, the legislation becomes law.
However, Zurich Insurance told the ThisIsMoney.co.uk website that the legislation could have adverse impacts with drivers “assuming it is safe just to drive at the given road limit irrespective of the immediate environment — for instance outside schools — and in adverse weather conditions, such standing water caused by rain, fog and snow or ice.”
Commented Britain’s Automobile Association president Edmund King, “the best speed limiter is the driver’s right foot” when used “to do the right speed in the right situation.”