Why do we buy new things?

The introduction to circular supply chains

· blog,logistics and systems

Australia, a place so big that if you don't have a car, it gives you a sense of what it would be like to not have a let. Of course, if you live closer to the city, it’s a different story and you can get away with different modes of transport. But for everyone else, the car is king.

What I find interesting though is not the need for a car, it’s the cars themselves, because if you look around, they’re all pretty new. Sure, even though this is Melbourne, which is a rich place. It’s still impressive to see how many not-shit cars are out there on the roads.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. Nice new cars in a nice city with nice enough people, how nice. But at what cost is all of this nice newness? Let’s look at the supply chain of a car. A manufacturer of vehicles designs, sources, and develops a new model of the... let’s go for the Toyota Corolla since it’s one of the highest selling cars in the country. 

So, Toyota goes through the process of developing a new model of Corolla then ships a bunch of them over through the port of Melbourne (where most of our new cars come through). From there they are off to dealers, mark up sites, wherever. All the cogs have turned over and people are driving the shiny new Corolla. But fast forward four years and the whole thing happens again. The new model comes out and a fleet of them will be sold and given people have alternate times lines for these things, this cycle turns over every year. 

This happens for a number of reasons from tax incentive to safety feature improvements to more efficient engines, or updates to faults along with other reasons which I’ve not listed. But again, at what cost is all of this coming? The amount of resources used to design, develop, test, ship, and support a new model of car is insane. But we seem to have a systematic network which encourages this kind of thing, we don’t see or seem to care about the damage such a cycle is causing to our environment. 

I know how millennial of me, complaining about the environment... 

In the previous post, I talked about ocean waste and plastics. The underlying tone was that the issue is not a 'once off' - nor can it be dealt with in one go - but a systematic issue which needs continuous attention. It’s the same thing here. So, what I’m getting at is, why do we buy new things? 

It isn’t the manufacturer's fault for making cars, they are in business to make money and they are developing what people are asking for. The same would go for any business in any industry. The ‘blame’ for how resources are being used, from what I can see, comes back to the people and what they want. 

People are the ones which demand a new model which is slightly nicer and slightly better looking and slightly safer and slightly faster. Cars for the longest time, have been seen as status symbols, and honestly – that hasn’t been an issue. I love cars, I love driving, I love driving quickly, and more than that I love being better then someone else it's way fun. 

But given the way things are moving, do we really need to use cars as the markers for success? Can we really not demand a car which doesn’t break or need to be upgraded so often? I almost get the feeling Apple knocked off its product cycle, you know the one. Buy a new phone, wait twelve months it magically stops working as fast right when a new model comes out (what a coincidence). 

With cars, it’s a little different to Apple's greed, plus nobody seems to care about e-waste yet, so we’ll ignore it for now. With cars, the onslaught of hating or detesting has been going on for a while. Whether it’s new generations not caring about the fun of driving or people thinking electric machinery is going to fix the world overnight, which… is just not correct. I mean, the hype around a Tesla and literally anything Elon Musk does is getting to be painful to put up with. 

Beyond the PC BS reasons for hating cars I completely understand, from first-hand experience, why owning a motor car is less and less appealing. They cost a lot to buy, you have to pay a lot of registration, having your license, insurance, and fuel. Then you have to service it and all of this is just for a passive user of cars. If you actually care about driving or showing off, both are fine. There's a whole world of ways to blow more money. Overall the point is, objectively, owning a car is expensive. 

So, what do we have here? We have a systematic usage of large amounts of our resources, fueled by incremental improvements, surrounded by people who care differently than generations prior about how cars should look and where they sit in the world. All of that, with, of course, the need for status and social approval. 

Here’s my theory, a Krystian Prediction, as to what will happen next. 

Rather then car makers taking demand information from people, the feedback loop will be replaced with businesses. More specifically, ride-sharing services. Here's how the idea goes. The popularity of ride-sharing services keeps skyrocketing – thanks to the comparatively lower cost, better government incentives, and social adaptations (why drive when you can be driven…). Because of this rather than giving feedback to manufacturers, people give feedback to fleet operators i.e. to the ride-sharing companies. This input from riders combined with infinite amounts of user data around trip history, ride length, comments, and star ratings are what gives car makers their new generation of feedback. 

In my prediction, ride-sharing companies amass more buying power than the people. Which is a good thing. Businesses have an incentive to lower costs and that means they will want cars which cost little to buy and even less to maintain (which uses fewer resources). Going further, they are also in a position to demand cars which last longer, since… why would you want to go through the process of mass onboarding a whole fleet of cars every year? 

The era of the electric car is accelerated thanks to this phenomenon. People are happy, they have access to transport, the cars are more sustainable, and it's for a reasonable price whilst still being an emblem of status. Plus I am happy because the resources of Earth are being more efficiently used with less waste for ego’s gain. 

Hold on a second… follow the supply chain, what about the end of life batteries…!? Hmm… gonna have to think about that one… let me get back to you.