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Much Ado About Cupholders

Is there a contest about having the most number of cupholders in cars? Automakers seem to think so, what with every next version arriving with more coffee carriers than before. But more than a spot for morning brew or fruit juice, today’s cupholders actually enjoy more use as parking for smartphones and other electronic gadgets.

When you consider that today’s vehicles have as much as 15 cupholders–Hello, Ford Expedition and Honda Odyssey!–it’s easy to conclude that cupholders have come a long way since their invention, and are now considered indispensable vehicle components. Just ask any parent with two or more kids. When you’re stuck in traffic and the children are getting really irate, horsepower, torque and suspension settings simply cease to matter, but those cupholders can be a godsend.

In a piece written by Henry Petroski, an American engineer specializing in failure analysis, the author wrote that he has come across many car shoppers whose purchase depended largely on finding the ideal cupholders their family.

“I’ve repeatedly heard articulate people say that their family’s latest automobile purchase hinged on which cupholders worked best for them,” Petroski wrote.

Meanwhile, cultural anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille added to this idea by attempting to explain the psychology behind cupholders, stating:

“…what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That’s why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety.”

Then Rapaille added this little gem:

“If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it’s soft, and if I’m high, then I feel safe. It’s amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has.”

So what’s the lesson to learn here? Nothing really, except that although 15 cupholders may seem over-the-top to some, they can be extremely important to others. To the latter, cupholders are what makes a car, and the rest of the features are just icing on the cake.

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