The 2019 Subaru Ascent will have 19 of them. Not airbags, but cupholders. That’s more than any mass-market vehicle ever produced, amounting to almost two-and-a-half cupholders for each passenger. There’s room for a Starbucks skinny latte, an unnaturally colored Big Gulp, a Yeti Rambler, and juice boxes galore. So many cupholders, in fact, that The Wall Street Journal recently declared: “We are approaching peak cupholder.”
Although it might be hard to imagine now, eating and drinking in cars was once next to impossible. Beyond a quick swig from a flask, rough roads and a lack of power steering and advanced suspension systems made it difficult and unpleasant to eat or drink on the road.
Cupholders began as an afterthought, mere circular indents on the inside of the door of the glove compartment, but they have become an absolute necessity and a key feature that shoppers evaluate when purchasing a new car, even for a time supplanting fuel efficiency as a consumer’s most sought-after attribute.
Cars like the Model T had accessories for eating, but they were intended for use when the car was parked. In 1936, for example, E. B. White waxed poetic in The New Yorker about the number of pages in the Sears catalogue once devoted to pimping out a Model T. Among the various items available for sale in those pages were small kitchenettes packed into trunks and attached to the sideboards of cars. They came complete with iceboxes and storage bins for pantry items like flour and sugar and a small foldout table. They were most likely used in auto camps, where early motorists stopped to enjoy the scenery, relax, and refuel.