Can't buy a thrill-- is America's love affair with the automobile ending?

Paul Harris of the U.K.’s Observer writes an interesting editorial on how the social significance of the automobile has changed in the U.S.

Posits Harris, at the end of the 1970’s, the Big Three represented nearly ninety percent of all new car sales. The American car was a symbol, representing freedom, patriotism, and sexual liberation. Cars were identified as Javelin (pictured), Deville, and Aviator-- not letter designations. Size (and how!), chrome, and sound announced the arrival of America at auto shows. Driving one’s first car was a right of passage into adulthood.

But the Seventies also brought the first major oil shortage. Americans rejected the gas-guzzling domestic brands and embraced the more fuel-efficient, reserved-looking, and standardized Japanese and European cars. Though there has been a revival for “retro” in recent years, Ford and General Motors still continue to follow Euro-Japanese design idioms.

But the biggest change has been driver’s attitudes towards their cars. According to popular culture expert Peter Latham of the University of Iowa, “They (his students) are like walking cyborgs with all these things (iPods, wireless cellphones) attached to them. Cars have become functional. They are not statements anymore. Electronics are.”

So, is the thrill gone? Has romance 'left the building'? Have your say in the comments field.

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