Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Diesel; What Happened To The Backlash? (Part 2)

I may have to accept that my wafer-thin argument about petrol versus diesel is a futile battle. Since August we have known that Dr Rudolph has infiltrated BMWs Motorsport division and there’ll be a heavy-oil fuelled Bavarian shredding its tyres at a set of traffic lights near you, very soon; the diesel "M" car is on its way. I can only assume they’ve done this because it's What The People Want. It also tells me that they’re listening to The Wrong People.

But maybe it’s me that has the problem. Maybe I’m taking things far too seriously. At this rate I run the risk of being left in the wake of progress because I don’t want to be a part of it. It’s happened to me before, because I’m an awkward bastard who won’t be told what to do by a world that thinks it knows better. It has happened to me with music.

Every time I switch my computer on, a dialogue box erupts and excitedly tells me that a new version of the iTunes “App” is available. I swear at it every single time, not just for the annoying, nagging pop-up that interrupts my typing and consumes my meagre system resources, but mainly because I have never usedmust have access to that monopolistic entity; where else will we obtain our music? iTunes and hope to never have to. Unfortunately, global convention dictates that every computer on Earth simply

I bought an MP3 player in a reluctant bid to stay abreast of the inexorable march of humanity, but seldom use it. Into its two gigabytes I flushed the detritus I had gathered on my computer hard-drive when I was at University, as I copied CDs from my friends. I know more or less what I can find on it (apart from a few hidden gems that probably lurk), and rarely want to hear any of it anyway. My MP3 player (a second hand Olympus item I bought on eBay) only comes out occasionally, usually when I want a background soundtrack for a long car journey and can’t be bothered to fill the CD changer.

If I want music on the move I take one of my small army of personal CD players. I have three, a CD-Only JVC item with an infallible anti-skip mechanism, a Sony item with an FM radio built in and the facility to play discs with MP3s on them (hooray!), plus an absurdly long battery life from its single AA cell. I also own a feature-stripped Bose unit which is the best sounding personal CD player I’ve ever used. I use this one on planes or in bed for bedtime listening sessions, in alliance with my noise-cancelling headphones.

I have no interest in moving to solid-state media unless I really, really have to. The music industry is bulldozing people into “going digital”, but the sale of CDs would have to be made illegal and punishable by removal of the spine to convince me to make the change. Nevertheless, the world en masse has decided that I’m in the extreme minority. The acquirement of music is no longer a tactile pleasure and a special treat, increased by the anticipation of that weekly trip to the record shop to buy that single that you can’t wait to hear again.

Instead it has become a virtual commodity, where kids worldwide download the top twenty singles on a weekly basis, not because they necessarily want or like any of them, but because all their friends are doing the same thing. As ever for kids, peer acceptance is the most important thing in the world and for them it’s never been easier to hedge their bets musically. They can now download all the music to make sure every base is covered.

This is no good to me. If I wanted to hear the top twenty singles I could tune into any one of the dozens of identikit commercial radio stations. No, I demand to browse the racks of my local music outlet, alphabetically, choosing my music on the basis of interesting sleeve artwork and band names that ring a bell with me and deserve further exploration.

You can’t do that online. Well, you can, but you can’t hold a prospective purchase in your hand before discarding it when that elusive re-issue of The Turn Of The Cards by Renaissance turns up on the rack, out of sequence amidst a row of unsold Whitesnake albums. Unearthing forgotten gems is part of the appeal of music stores and charity shops. On iTunes, that magic isn’t there. All you have to know is the name of whatever music you want to hear, and there it is, on demand, for a small payment. There’s no thrill of the chase, there’s no “this looks interesting, I’ll give it a bash”. You never go to the store clerk to ask what that awesome tune is that they’re playing and that you’re hearing for the first time. Championship Vinyl, the store at the centre of the film High Fidelity, would increasingly struggle today.

But, that’s progress. BMW have realised that the world increasingly cares less and less about the characteristics of the petrol engine. Immediate grunt is today’s flavour of choice, and the word Diesel has become ingrained in the minds of the millions as a by-word for efficiency, economy and environmental awareness, regardless of whatever the real truth might be.

It makes me wonder about the continuing survival of publications like Diesel Car magazine. At the time of its foundation the magazine lived in the shadows, a minority publication for those eccentrics who favoured queuing up with the lorries while we all filled up with delicious, fragrant four-star. Diesels were run by reformed hippies and liberal “free-thinkers”, each of them enjoying membership of an exclusive club, a cult, a church of the poisoned mind.

In the 1980s Ford introduced fuel injection on the high-performance models of its almost exclusively petrol-fuelled car range, and affixed the soon-respected “Injection” designation to the bootlids of certain Capri’s and Granadas. You didn’t just drive an Orion Ghia, but an Orion Ghia Injection. The name sounded terrific, but soon became redundant when exhaust catalysts became obligatory and carburettors lost out in favour of single point injection systems. By the early 1990s every single car Ford sold had fuel injection. The tag Injection became meaningless.

Just as the Musical and Accordion Express buckled under the onslaught of popular music and metamorphosed into the New Musical Express (NME), Likewise, the changing market means that Diesel Car may soon have to change its title simply to Car, with obvious trademark consequences. It's already added the amendment The UK's leading magazine for Diesel and Alternative Fuel vehicles; bets hedged, then. If the rate of enquiry I receive at my dealership is anything to go by, pretty soon petrol cars will be in the minority; curios of yesteryear reserved for that element of society that will not be told what to do by The Man. Over the coming years, starting with BMW (today) we’ll watch them fall, companies who had been fiercely pro-petrol caving into the fact that the simple word diesel sells cars on its own.

Companies either sell the people what they want, or they build what they want and tell the customers it’s what they need; it doesn’t really matter. Just as Microsoft will keep churning out new operating systems faster than you or I could possibly need them; be this progress or just change for the sake of change, it’s a natural and never-ending cycle. It could well be that; after running in the shadows of Petrol for dozens of years, Diesel gets the upper hand. The world seems to have convinced itself that diesel is the future; resistance is futile.

One thing’s for sure, though; whether powered by petrol, diesel, hydrogen or plutonium, there will always be personal transportation units of some kind and I’ll still derive immense pleasure from writing about them. And you can bet I’ll still forlornly try to daisy-chain my vintage CD player into whatever the hell it is that I’m driving.

To read Part 1 of "What Happened To The Backlash?", please click here.