A Car. For All Reasons

Pull up to the bumper, VW Tiguan.

BY jason tan | Aug 6, 2018 | Opinion

As influencers, they would be Kardashians; no other consumer product has so convincingly overrun our lifestyles and the planet as the car.

But these are confusing times for enthusiasts. The crazy cognitive dissonance is getting too much to bear: is it possible to love the machine, and not the highways, road kill, toxic air and oil terrorism that come as part of the package?

It’s all ‘externalities’, say the economists: the perfectly efficient transaction happens between willing buyer and seller, which is its own, self-sustaining circle of virtue.

So, there’s no need to cost for the damage caused by the car when we calculate its price tag, because it occurs outside this bubble.

(If we did, who could afford cars? And what would that do to an industry considered too big to fail?)

And it’s not just a problem of fossil fuels. Tesla and battery-powered electric vehicles, for all their techie-rebel appeal, change nothing of the global car industry’s corporate imperatives.

(On the contrary, they add cobalt to the list of conflict minerals and countries at risk of plunder and regime change.)

Ironically, for a product designed by engineering, the car’s popularity is irrational.

Despite the near-universal experience of rush-hour carmageddon and highways built across nature reserve, public park and next to your kitchen, the car’s aura remains undimmed.

What are the reasons for our enduring love affair?

The usual ones, such as the rush of upward social mobility the new purchase confers, and basking in the admiration/envy attracted by our bling machines.

But it can’t be long before archaeologists uncover the fossil of Proto-Car, the missing link between the chimpanzee and Homo sapiens.

We aren’t, after all, descended from Africa Man or sired by Genghis Khan but are the offspring of Optimus Prime.


Behold, Volkswagen Tiguan.

‘Minimum scope’ is the nebulous term that floats in the twilight zone of business consulting, project management, engineering and all kinds of everything.

It seems to mean the simplest, most-effective way of Making the Bastard Happen (pardon my Australian), not unlike immaculate conception.

Make a machine that works first time, all the time, does whatever you ask, and won’t break even when you’re doing your damnedest.

But when you market it, it’s mandatory to mention every single extra in its options list, like the touch-screen coffee machine and wazer-guided nostril-hair trimmer massage chair.

Never mention engineering objectives, like ‘minimum scope’.

Because it’s not Instagrammable.

Read the online-brochure and you’ll think the Tiguan is only for Soccer Mom or Earnest Dude who’s about to make partner in his Big Five firm. But what lies beneath the sales pitch?

So, on a red-eye moment to retrieve and deliver overweight baggage and priceless passengers (and human speed-limiters) to their mission-critical flight, you sit in the Tiguan.

You look deeply into its precisely rendered, holographic dials for information.

Then you look up at all the two stars in the night sky polluted by artificial light, and make a wish: 16 k’s in 15 minutes. Across the city that never sleeps; roads of cars ever in search of supper.

You step out at the end of your mission, barely shaken, stirring to the dawn of a new day made unimpossible by engineering integrity, from the inside out.

There is a God.

Malaysia Boleh.

Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI High Line, RM168,990. This is an updated version of the article first published in the Summer 2018 print edition of Esquire Malaysia. (P.S. Note to the engineer who programmed Sport Mode: it’s okay to use the three upper gears.)