When talking about cars today, the matter of an engine’s output can be talked about in terms of horsepower. Behind this term, however, lies a simple truth. Not all that long ago, the most common way to travel was on the back of a horse or in a carriage powered by a horse. The automobile ultimately overtook the horse as the primary way to move quickly, yet this change didn’t happen overnight. It was not until the automobile was a proven, and universally affordable, transportation option that it replaced the horse. Two vehicles in particular, the Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle, made transportation affordable for the masses.
When the automobile was first introduced, its high price tag made it an unrealistic option for the majority of the population. Famously, the status quo was disrupted with the adoption of the assembly line for production of the Model T. According to the History Channel, “The Model T runabout sold for $575 in 1912, less than the average annual wage in the United States. By the time the Model T was withdrawn from production in 1927, its price had been reduced to $290 for the coupe, 15 million units had been sold, and mass personal ‘automobility’ had become a reality.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, gas prices were quickly rising, leaving many Americans in need of fuel-efficient, affordable transportation. Previously, fuel-efficiency was largely an afterthought as Americans drove hulking clunkers in droves. The 1968 Volkswagen Beetle disrupted the norm by offering a fuel-efficient, affordable vehicle, costing only $1,699 (approximately $11,767 today when adjusted for inflation). The Volkswagen Beetle offered affordable transportation to the masses through common-sense design and enhanced efficiency.
This begs the question, is there a present day Model T or Volkswagen Beetle? New car prices are rising and show no signs of slowing down. According to Kelly Blue Book, the average price of a new vehicle reached a record $34,428 in December 2015. With the advancements made in the manufacturing process of automobiles, one would think that vehicles are becoming more affordable. According to Investopedia, “With increased efficiency, the synthesis of cheaper and more durable materials, and economies of scale, the real price of economy cars ought to decline with time.” Yet, despite these advances, a new car remains outside the price range of most Americans.
Both the Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle have proved to be transformative vehicles by offering affordable transportation for all. Unfortunately, few automakers have endeavored to embrace the legacy of these two legendary vehicles. Both the market and car buyers are ready for a vehicle that embodies the Model-T and the Volkswagen Beetle for the 21st century.