Owning a car marks one's status, identity

Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi has hit the nail on the head ("Tough to break bond between man and car"; Monday).

The Government will have a formidable task ahead if it pushes for 0 per cent annual growth in our car population.

The current pricing mechanism has caused a contraction, with a multitude of marginal car owners giving up their wheels after the expiry of their certificates of entitlement.

While it makes sense for the majority of the population in an urban metropolis to rely on public transport, existing car owners are reluctant to give up something which has become an extension of themselves, and not merely a tool to get from points A to B.

The idea that we can own something as if it were a part of ourselves begins at childhood.

With ownership comes envy, once we discover that certain toys belonging to other children appear more attractive than ours.

Through adolescence, we begin to view possessions as reflecting how we would like to see ourselves.

For a young adult who has just embarked on his career, car ownership often becomes the ultimate symbol of his emerging identity.

Our first cars are not merely possessions. They are an extension of our sense of self, which reflects both who we are and where we aspire to be.

This explains some of the behaviour we often associate with a mid-life crisis, such as ditching the family's multi-purpose vehicle for a new sports car.

Conspicuous consumption boosts our sense of identity and also conveys status and importance.

In land-scarce Singapore, the less affluent have to make way for the wealthy; nowhere is this more clearly apparent than in car ownership.

Unlike one's private home, a private vehicle is a possession that can be literally displayed at different places to a wider audience throughout the day.

Car owners are perceived as wealthier and having membership to a higher social status group - not just to others, but also to themselves.

We are rapidly approaching the day when only top earners will be able to possess cars.

This will, in fact, make car ownership even more attractive to those who can afford it.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

This article was first published on December 24, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.