While I enjoy Pixar’s Cars franchise, I have some significant issues with the movies and the overall universe that the sentient cars live in. Today I want to address something beyond my well-publicized disagreement over eye placement; this is more philosophical and physiological. I’ve been giving the issue some thought, and I’ve come up with a theory. A horrific, disturbing theory.

For anyone not aware, the Cars series takes place in a universe much like our own, but entirely free of humans or, as far as we can tell, any biological animal life (at least above a microscopic level) at all. Plant life is abundant and essentially the same as our Earth.

The dominant form of life in the Cars universe are sentient automobiles, with human-level intelligence, the ability to produce technology and an organized civilization at least on par with 20th or 21st-century Earth.

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Now, we could just take this at face value and accept this is just a universe with sentient cars, but there’s some small details that suggest there’s more going on here, that perhaps the Cars universe isn’t a different universe at all—perhaps it is our own universe, tens of thousands of years in the future, and perhaps humans are not gone—just very, very different.

The main hint is that the cars still retain details like windows, doors, and door handles, which would only be needed if there were beings who would need to open the cars and get inside them—in short, humans. Us.

There’s also the fact that the cars in Cars all speak known human languages; we’ve heard mostly English, but other languages, such as Japanese and Italian have come up in Cars properties. It’s also been made clear that the entire Earth, which looks pretty much just like Earth as we know it, is entirely populated with cars, and there are countries just like on our Earth, with cultures and accents and traditions that match our human universe exactly.

This even gets specific enough to include human-derived costuming, such as the hat and Spanish-influenced ornamentation Mater wore in a Cars short where he was a matador.

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There’s no reason why this would happen unless the Cars universe is the same as ours, just free of human people. And it’s not as though humans never existed; if that was the case, why would the sentient cars have doors and windows and side rear-view mirrors? All those things are specifically designed for a human’s use from inside a car.

Plus, they use the same written human language as we do. Such a written language would make no sense if you were a car. The letters are far to fussy and hard to write with tires and wheels. If cars developed their own written language, it would be some sort of skidmark-based glyph system, right?

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So, what happened to all the humans? Why are they gone? And how did cars become sentient, and fully immersed in human cultures?

The answer is simple, and, yes, disturbing: the humans are the cars.

Well, more specifically, there actually are human beings inside the cars, and are the source of the car’s personality, intelligence, everything. The mechanical car is just the external body of these human-derived creatures. I call this the Homunculus Theory.

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This diagram should clear up what I mean:

Let’s explore this in more detail, a history of how the Cars universe came to be. The Cars universe was born from our own, and got its start several decades from our present time. The coming age of autonomous cars was arriving, and autonomous cars were rapidly becoming common.

True gearheads who loved to drive—like most of the readers of our site—gradually became a more niche group, and society gradually forced human-driving enthusiasts to the margins of drivable society.

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Eventually, some communities of gearheads started to develop, away from the strongholds of the autonomous-car mainstream, where people could still drive their own cars.

This went on for a while, but at some point, something disastrous happened. Some biological calamity or plague occurred, and killed off the vast majority of people and animal life. The survivors were the gearheads in their remote communities, away from the vast population-centers with their highly restrictive human-driving rules and insane downtown congestion charges.

Whatever killed off most of the people must have made outdoor life still dangerous for animal life, so the surviving humans began to spend more and more time in their cars. Eventually, cybernetic interfaces between humans and cars were developed, setting the path of human/automotive evolution down a whole new path.

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As time went on, this symbiotic relationship between man and car grew even stronger. Cars become bodies to house the humans within, keeping them safe but closed off to the world. Genetic engineering was used, along with artificial amniotic vats, to produce new humans. This was a lot easier, since being in your car all the time and having the stunted social skills of a truly hardcore gearhead made mating problematic, anyway.

Eventually, automated, robotic factories to produce cars were built, and human babies were produced in amniotic vats, and then directly embedded within an automotive exoskeleton/body.

While conventional automotive drivetrains were used for the automotive systems, machinery to convert the hydrocarbons in gasoline, diesel, or other fuels into a food-like nutrient solution for the internal human was developed, allowing the car-humans to subsist on the same petrochemicals needed for the car engines to run. Again, all of this is automated, self-sustaining, cranking out new organisms every day.

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Interfaces from the brain to the car’s electrical system were developed, along with mechanical linkages to allow for steering and suspension manipulation via the limbs. Solid and liquid wastes were processed through the car’s exhaust systems and, in most cases, converted into gaseous exhaust with some occasional particulates.

This is why all the cars in Cars are fundamentally human in personality, culture, and intelligence: inside, they are human. There’s literally (well, fictitiously literally) a genetically-engineered, stunted, freakishly emaciated-looking human inside every car in the Cars universe.

That’s why you never see the doors open (the humans can’t survive the exposure), why there’s no convertibles with tops open, and why cars may employ firearms against one another: you can kill a car if you shoot the small human inside.

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Also, it finally gives a good explanation why the cars have massive human eyes (well, irises, at least) in the windshield: the windshield is a massive magnifying lens connected to a visor on the human’s face.

You see the irises and nothing else because the white plastic of the visor hides the nose bridge and other details, and the distortions from the lens make the irises seem like huge, highly mobile discs on the windshield.

What’s even more fucked up is that the cars of Cars probably aren’t even aware of this situation. They’ve existed like this for so long they don’t know anything different. Culture, language, customs like racing—all of it is driven by memory fragments from what’s left of the collective human consciousness, driving the cars to live like the human ancestors did millennia ago. They are no more aware of their situation than humans are of their single-celled organism ancestors.

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So, there you have it: the one theory about the Cars universe that explains everything: where the humans went, where/when cars takes place, why the cars have the exact same human culture, languages, writing, and traditions. Because they are humans, inside.

And, even better, those humans are the gearheads who loved cars so much that they willingly devised an evolutionary plan that merged themselves with cars; that’s also why none of the cars are psychopaths unable to accept their current physicality. Because the humans that started the culture and life of the sentient cars wanted it that way.

And, I hope you realize, those people that eventually became the cars?

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They’re us.