'I wither inside when someone tells me their car is 'called Terry''

Ascribing human qualities to a car is just silly, says Richard. Unless it’s his Jaguar I-Pace

Richard Porter opinion

Cars can feel alive, cars can have a personality, cars can feel as if they have a soul. But giving a car a name still strikes me as the sort of soppiness that anyone who’s truly into cars wouldn’t tolerate. After all, they’re just artful collections of metal and plastic and glass that will never have the warm-blooded spirit of, say, a dog. You can form an enormous attachment to a car but there’s no need to call it Bertha. They don’t need names and they’re not to be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’. I wither inside when someone tells me their car is ‘called Terry’ or boasts that ‘she’s got some grunt’. I even get a bit awkward and itchy when I hear that a car has a nickname based around the randomly assigned letters on the number plate.

I’ll grant you that my Land Rover Defender, by dint of having a certain indefinable and sometimes bloody-minded character, is the only car I’ve ever owned to which I sometimes say hello when I get in, but I’ve never been minded to christen it because Land Rover did that job for me. They called it the Defender. So that’s what it’s known as in our house. No need to take it any further. 

And no need to make any kind of attempt to ascribe to it human qualities that it doesn’t have. It’s a machine. A lovely, loveable machine, but a machine nonetheless. It has traits, good and bad, but it’s not a sentient being and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. 

> 'Electric cars need more character, and there’s an obvious place to look for it'

I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years, during which time we had a Jaguar I-Pace as our family car. The I-Pace is electric, and some people fear that the rise of electrification will erode the character of cars, making them less interesting and loveable. I understand some of these concerns, but they do pre-suppose that all internal combustion engines are brilliant and musical, which they aren’t, and that each new electric car is taking the place of some wonderful, petrol-powered charisma typhoon like a Porsche 997 GT3 RS or De Tomaso Pantera. This isn’t strictly true either. 

Our electric car replaced a diesel SUV, that blandest of all formats, and the volt-gobbler was a lot more interesting, not least for its turn of speed and the easy, torquey way in which it was delivered. Aside from its performance, I also enjoyed its quietness and the tidy, grippy way it went around corners. It had a definite and agreeable personality. Not a strong one, because the linear delivery of electric motors can seem rather one-note and that brings a certain blandness, but it wasn’t totally beige. I liked it a lot. 

I’m talking about it in the past tense because our I-Pace went away last month, back to the lease company from where it came. I miss it already. 

The only thing I won’t miss is the weird glitch it developed just a few days before it was taken away, an unexpected blip in 24 otherwise reliable months of ownership. Suddenly, in the very week the car was scheduled to leave us, the keyless entry system stopped working. I switched to the spare key with a fresh battery but no dice. To open the doors you had to press the button on the fob the old-fashioned way and, once inside, there was a 50/50 chance that the system would recognise its own dongle and permit you to switch on the ignition, or whatever it’s called in an EV. If not, holding the key against a sensor beneath the steering wheel would get things going. A mildly irksome fault but one you’d probably live with for a bit before finally making a special trip to the dealer to get it looked at. I didn’t have time to do that before our I-Pace became someone else’s problem. Whoever’s got it now, I hope they’re looking after it.

Truth is, I wanted to keep our Jag for a little longer and asked the lease company if I could extend our contract. But, as the supplying dealer admitted to me when we got the car, our deal was based on a back-office mistake, which is why the monthlies looked so tempting at the time. The error was honoured but could not be extended beyond the originally agreed lease period. You wanna keep it, you gotta pay for it. Market rate. Much, much more expensive. So I said thanks but no thanks and booked for the car to be collected. 

The very next day it developed the fault with the key. As I said, I don’t like pretending cars have more personality or sentience than they actually possess, but deep down in my heart I’m fighting against a silly suspicion about the reason for the key glitch the day after I’d arranged for the I-Pace to leave our lives; I think it knew.

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