If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?

Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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I know the world is in a pretty weird place right now, and I suppose it says something about the human mind’s weird self-destructive gluttony for disaster that makes one even think in these terms, but what if shit got weirder? And, by weirder, I mean even worse, economically, politically, whatever, to the point where everything is going so terribly off the rails that it’s decided that, for some set of reasons that make sense in the context of this hypothetical shitstorm, that car sales in the U.S. will have to be reduced to a selection of just five cars. What should those cars be?

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Is this too grim? It is a little grim. But I’m having fun, weirdly.

We’ll need some criteria for our little thought-experiment here, so let’s say these cars can be any car that’s being sold in America for the 2020 model year. Part of the process here is that we’ll need to pick some general categories for these cars, because with only five, we can’t really have any overlap.

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So, what should these five general categories be? As tempting as it would be to categorize them as mid-engine, rear-engine, amphibious, rock crawler, and drift monster, that’s probably not very smart.

I think, if something like this happened, we’d need utilitarian cars mostly, cars that did jobs and filled needs, and we should figure out the broad spectrum of what those needs are.

So, here’s what I think the categories should be:

1. Smallish commuter car/family car
2. Pickup truck
3. Van (passenger and cargo)
4. Larger family car/SUV?
5. Off-roader/rugged use vehicle.

Hm. I’m not sure I’m totally happy with that, because now that I think about it, we may want an electric car as one of the options. But what do we get rid of to make room for it? I don’t want to add another category, because that arbitrary number of five is what makes this fun, dammit.

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Okay, so let’s think. I think a smallish family/general use car will still make sense as the backbone of the automotive fleet, so that stays. Industries and businesses and all kinds of municipal services need pickups and vans, so they stay.

Now, maybe we could lose the off-roader category, since you could argue that’s frivolous, and perhaps we could get some off-road capability from the pickup category or even a larger SUV option for families?

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Or maybe the opposite makes sense? Kill the larger family/SUV vehicle and steer families of more than five to passenger vans?

Hm. This is tricky. Okay, I’m gonna kill the dedicated off-roader/rugged category and say the pickup truck and larger family vehicle can accomodate that niche, if needed. So, let’s try this:

1. Smallish commuter car/family car
2. Pickup truck
3. Van (passenger and cargo)
4. Larger family car/SUV?
5. Electric Vehicle

Okay, now for the fun part: what currently-sold cars should fill these roles? I’m thinking that, in this context, we’d want to focus on cars that are pretty reliable and designed for mass appeal. Nothing too expensive or complex or fancy. Workhorses.

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With that in mind, here’s my picks, and I’m all but certain you’ll feel like I’m making colossal mistakes for most, if not all of these. I’m ready for that. Here we go:

Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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1. Smallish commuter car/family car: Kia Soul

I know the Soul is somewhat polarizing in its looks, but when it comes to picking one smaller car to handle pretty much everything, a box on wheels makes the most sense.

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A sedan like a Corolla or a Versa just isn’t going to be able to be flexible enough to do the occasional but not uncommon moving and hauling of bulky things like a boxy hatchback like the Soul could, and that goes for other sleeker-designed hatchbacks as well.

A Soul can seat five, has good interior room, good reliability records, decent enough fuel economy, and I’ve even found them pretty engaging to drive, if you have the right mindset.

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I think the Soul would do just fine here.

Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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2. Pickup truck

For this one, I guess why rock the boat? May as well keep selling the biggest-selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-150. I’d limit it to the base/fleet XL spec, but I’d allow for four-door crew cab versions and 4x4 off-road setups, to cover the rugged-use/off-road market.

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Now, even though these will be work-truck spec, I want to be clear that anyone can buy one, and that goes for any of the five models. Selection is limited, but your choice isn’t! Sort of.

Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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3. Vans (cargo and passenger)

I was considering going with a more modern van design like a Ford Transit or a RAM ProMaster, both of which I feel have superior designs to the old Chevy Express vans, but I think, if we’re in a situation where we need to limit to 5 models, maybe having one of them be a tried-and-true old-school workhorse isn’t the worst idea.

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These would also be pretty much fleet spec, but with some more comforts available on the passenger-hauling versions in case a large, likely religious, single family wanted to use one as their primary car.

Also, these vans could prove to be a good source of big V8 engines that people desperate for sports cars could try shoehorning into their Kia Souls.

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Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky

4. Larger family car/SUV

Okay, this one was the hardest for me, partially because this wildly popular category of cars is the least interesting to me, personally, and also because there’s many options that would do the job as well as any other.

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In this case, I decided to go with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, because I felt that since I had to eliminate the dedicated off-roader category, Jeep offers the most options and aftermarket options in this general class to turn a mall-crawler into an off-roader.

I mean, Toyota’s Land Cruiser would likely be an equal or better in that regard, and maybe the new Land Rover Defender, but the Jeep is cheaper than both (by a lot—the Jeep starts at about $32,000 and the Land Cruiser at $85,000!), so for our dire-times scenario, that gets the nod.

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Also, I had David Tracy breathing down my neck.

Illustration for article titled If Only Five Cars Could Be Sold In America, What Should They Be?
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky
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5. Electric Vehicle

I think even in this limited five-car scenario, in 2020 (or later), we’ll need an electric option. And while there’s more and more viable battery-electric vehicles out there, I think the clever engineering and packaging design of the Tesla Model 3, along with its good performance and range, make it the logical choice.

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I’d only offer the base, RWD spec, to try to keep the price as close to $35,000 as possible, and we’d have to get Tesla’s quality control issues under control, but if they were 20% of the available cars on the market, then I’d hope that’s something that could be accomplished. I hope.

So, there you go! That’s my grim, dystopian five-car America lineup: Kia Soul, Ford F-150, Chevy Express, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Tesla Model 3.

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It’s not a particularly exciting or engaging lineup, and I was trying to err on the side of austerity and affordability a bit, but I think it’s a lineup where the country could get by.

The fun part, though, is that I want to see your lineups! If you want to make an argument for three Porsches, a Lotus and a Mirage, I’ll hear you out! Maybe your vision of a five-car-option America is less grim than mine? Maybe it’s more grim? I’m very, very curious.

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Want different basic categories? I’m listening!

So, have at it! Five vehicles only! If you want to do less, sure, why not, though!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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DISCUSSION

jalapenoman
Jalapenoman

Ferrari F40 for everyone. No nannies, stickshift.

You need some plywood or two by fours, strap it to the roof. Need more people room, hmm. No plan is perfect.

2020 Make driving fun again. (Not affiliated with any political party, just HP and handling)