Teapot cars as Social Objects

Looks like the doomed auto-makers have been reading Hugh Macleod’s Gaping Void blog, which is really rather good, and has an interesting perspective on “social objects” which are something to do with “conversation pieces” which were all the rage in the 70s.

In fact I can remember a cartoon in which a middle class suburban couple were explaining the monstrous “thing” on their coffee table: “That’s our conversation piece” they said, “We don’t like to talk about it”.


So marketing in the Attention Economy revolves around conversation pieces. God help you if you sell heamoeroid cream. It’s impossible to spell in any case. Serves you right for choosing something you can’t spell, and that hasn’t the potential to be “remarkable” enough to be talked about a great deal. The 21st century is going to be The Golden Age of Piles. I can feel it coming etc.

So speaking of piles, Nissan has released this little gem


Which has it’s own social web-site apparently, though I must confess I haven’t joined or even looked at the page because I’m beginning to find the whole social thing to be a bore… but the car? It looks like a satire – on using social-apps to sell ridiculous shite to the breathlessly gullible herds (the meaning of who’s lives is gauged primarily according to the number of pixelly 80×80 faces to the right of their “personal profile” (yea, yea, I don’t “get it”)). I mean FFS, look at the state of it. Is that really the best the auto-industry can do? after 1/2 a century of massively (and I do mean massively) funded innovation, endlessly refined in the mythically infallible crucible of the market?

Sorry, are you taking the piss?

Someone recently said to me something like “there hasn’t been any serious innovation in the car market since the Citroen DS”… and from a rank-amatuers POV, he’s kindof right. The design classics all happened at least 30 or 40 years ago – since then it’s been microscopic incremental “improvements” which are every inch an indication that the players have become too big to seriously innovate – and they’re now just milking it. Or maybe the market itself sucks?

Maybe the answer to the Car-Buying Punter’s wildest dreams is a thing that looks like, not just a teapot, but an avant-garde teapot from the 50s. I mean teapots are social objects aren’t they? Especially avante-garde ones from the 50s.

Maybe it’s just me… maybe radical innovation isn’t what people want… I mean this review of another hybrid that looks exactly like every other car on the road… ie: a compromise, is (it says) “significantly cheaper” at $18,500 to $20,000 rather than $22,000 to $26,672. Sorry? I’d describe that as being “basically the fucking same”. Business as usual in other words.

Fuck business as usual.

These on the other hand are cool.


What the world needs now is something that has that level of design aesthetic (and the safety and efficiency), but which costs about as much as this:

diycar (from – which also has building instructions and thoughts on how to improve it)

What’s needed is an open-source chassis that allows the easy swapping in and out of engines, “looks and feels” and other bits of tech as they arise. The whole model of having to buy a $20,000 (or whatever it is) conglomeration of steel and glass, about 1% of the energy from which is actually expended on it’s given task (to transport a human), and the rest is spent on itself… and which will be kindof out of date in 5 years, is wrong.

We don’t need an exciting change in how cars are marketed, we need a radical change (ie: breaking up) of the entire business that produces them. The entire philosophy around “what they are”

And the big flashing neon sign that’s six inches from my nose, so close and familiar that I can’t see it?


That is the magic bullet. That is the catalyst that allows a transition from the industrial age to whatever’s next with a minimum of blood on the carpet. To stop waiting for our institutions to innovate, and to do it ourselves.

1 Comment » for Teapot cars as Social Objects
  1. So, where’s my Genomobile? Hear hear! I find I’m screamingly agreeing with your posts! Right on.