Opinion: It’s time to bring back ‘poverty-spec’ cars

by James Mills
15 June 2022 3 min read
Opinion: It’s time to bring back ‘poverty-spec’ cars
Photos: Nick Chivers

So, that’s it. Without notice, the government has pulled the plug on grants for electric cars.

Why? Possibly because it’s woken up to the vast increase in van sales and the emissions spewing from countless next-day delivery runs, or maybe because it knows the car makers have set their course and subsidising these titans of consumerism – no matter how rotten things are for the industry right now – can no longer be justified.

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But let’s not be downbeat about this. Yes, it means electric cars are going to get more expensive. But come on team! Let’s try putting ourselves in the fashionable shoes of the handsomely paid executives who jump from one job to another, car company by car company, every three years, and spit-ball corporate jargon, strategise growth paths and shape new opportunities to better wind-in all those hooked on our PCP – sorry, I mean better-serve our wonderful customers!

Just as car designers ran out of new ideas years ago, or simply gave up designing pretty cars, and raided their corporate back catalogue for inspiration, so they could do the same to create cheaper cars.

I know this flies in the face of everything about the car industry. But who here wouldn’t appreciate cheaper cars? Exactly!

Achieving cheaper cars overnight is simple. Remember poverty-spec cars? [Hey, there’s a reason we call them affordable cars, in 2022. Ed.] Let’s make that a thing again.

Here are some suggestions for the big brainstorm camp that I just know Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen won’t be having as they explore ways to make their electric cars cheaper. (As in, selling them for less to you and I, not making them for less and charging more. You know what I mean.)

Opinion: It's time to bring back poverty-spec cars

Forget about door trim. The stuff is overrated. All you need is a hard, plastic arm-rest that doubles as a handle. And while you’re at it, ditch the electric windows and go with winding windows. Perhaps the action of winding the windows could power the lights? [That wouldn’t work. Ed]

Leather is a luxury, plastic lasts longer, so stop trimming those steering wheels and go naked (literally, if you like). Oh, and centre consoles are so last-century. Be brave and liberate the gear lever from its plastic surrounds so it sprouts unashamedly from the floor. Who needs somewhere to put a mobile when there are still phone boxes in use?

The electric mirror has no place in a poverty-spec car. Bin it in favour of a new-fangled finger-operated lever device, and ditch the near-side mirror while you’re at it because any self-respecting driver of a cheap car will bang it up on the kerb when parking and leave it there for pedestrians to navigate.

Self-dimming mirrors and automatic headlights and wipers do not feature in the cheap car of the future. Bring back clusters of Tonka-toy-like plastic switchgear, using the Citroen GSA as a yardstick in ergonomic not-excellence.

Opinion: It's time to bring back poverty-spec cars

And while we’re on the subject of tech, let’s leave out the big screens that Tesla drivers use to watch films rather than the road, and return to switches – most of which will be blanked off.

The rear ‘wash wipe’ is another hang up from the days drivers paid attention to the road. Be gone! And any drivers who do still keep an eye on their surroundings can use an old jumper to wipe the back window at traffic lights, roundabouts and other busy locations.

Much has been written about the failure of modern car security which is susceptible to signal-boosting criminals. Get rid of the keyless entry and ignition malarky and we could go back to the days of manually/unlocking doors and – better still – de-icing the door locks while running late for an important meeting.

And finally, what’s so exclusive about alloy wheels in this day and age? Every car has them. Let’s embrace cold, hard steel once more, and get creative with hubcaps that can later be hung for years to come from a piece of barbed-wire fence by a helpful passing rambler.

If you have further suggestions for poverty-spec savings in the electric car age, be kind enough to add them to the brainstorm, below.

Read more

Top 10 ‘poverty-spec’ cars
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  • Andrew says:

    While I wholeheartedly agree with this approach, and would love a return to manual windows and steel wheels, there’s a solution that I think the majority of the car buying public would find more palatable – just have a phone dock.

    Modern mobiles easily have the necessary processing power and storage required to run everything necessary on a car, so a bare dash with a USB C connector should be all that’s needed (maybe an amp and speakers as options). Your phone can then do everything – display speed and charge, log errors, control lights, heater etc. Not only does this save resources, it also ameliorates the global chip shortage. Job done!

  • Chris Boll says:

    Alloy wheels are a nonsense on a road car, alloy is lighter than steel but has to be used in a much thicker section for safety, and you cannot bash out a minor ding with a hammer

  • Nick Cunningham says:

    Also they go porous over time, which is tedious

  • Mark Scott says:

    There are cheaper alternatives out there. It’s just that the fat cats and Jones’s keep brainwashing the public into thinking they are no good or are a reflection of your standing in life. Many just follow this like sheep.
    Why does someone need a top spec SUV to nip to the shops? The boot size is only just big enough for a couple of bags anyway.
    It’s time that people started to look at what’s important for them really and if that’s getting from A-B as cheaply as possible then what’s wrong with a Kia Picanto or Dacia Sandero? You get a great warranty too.
    On the subject of window winding power generation, this is not so far fetched. I remember a few years back that a group of science students from Skipton Girls High School came up with a device that turned the action of door handle use into power generation!

  • Michael says:

    Air conditioning. Only needed a few days each year in our climate. Not worth the expense or hassle.

  • Chris Watts says:

    Rev counters can go, just listen to the engine note. To make that easier, remove unnecessary sound proofing too! Saves weight, increases mpg and the you can also appreciate how much quieter new cars are as you listen to the tappets rattling away in your basic 4 pot motor!

  • Kyle says:

    Why not go the whole hog and take away 2 of the wheels as well. Remove the engine and power it yourself? Remove the steering wheel and just have bars at the front. Remove the roof, carpets, the lot.

  • Adrian lenard says:

    I have never been in a poverty-spec car that wasn’t a joyless, miserable thing, apart from a 205 Junior and that gave me a headache. Cheap cars are great, simple cars are great and small cars are great, but there’s something about a deliberately stripped-out loss-leader that makes my soul die a little. I think it’s because it has to be deliberately undesirable, or else we’ll all want one and then capitalism would collapse and we’d all die. Or something.

  • David Greenleaf says:

    I love my povo spec XJ6 with tweed seats, plastic wheel trims and no air con.

  • Mike says:

    If they still made the Renault 4 or the Citroën 2cv I’d order one this afternoon. Fond memories of my first company car – a 1. 3 Mark 1 Escort Popular. Two doors, light, simple, painted bumpers, fit your own radio, rubber mats…

  • James Lelievre says:

    I’d like to see a return to bench seats in the front. Why seat 2 when 3 can fit with a squeeze. And with just you and your partner, he/she can scooch up nice and close – pure romance!

  • Barry Morgan says:

    Resurrect the Mk2 Golf. I still have one with the 1.8L engine (not injection) and the boxy shape mean you can get oodles of stuff in the back with the seat down: e.g. a full size coffin (borrowed for a play). Even go the whole hog and put an electric motor in it!

  • William Grime says:

    I have twenty one cars. Twenty of them exactly meet the poverty spec, but are a complete delight to drive. They include a Lancia Fulvia, an Alfa Giulia, an original Abarth (1972), a Landy series 1, a (real) Mini Cooper S, an Austin 7 from 1934… are you seeing a theme developing here? Oh, and they’re all appreciating assets. I do trade them occasionally and invariably seem for more than I paid after many years of use and pleasure. Mind you, the only modern machine, positively chandelier with pointless electrical fripperies, has done quite well too. Bought for six grand, used for six years, valued at – six grand…! (Skoda Yeti if you were wondering.).

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