Too Much of a Good Thing?

A couple of experiences recently have got me thinking somewhat more philosophically over the last few days and I wondered what others thought?

HD Matrix LED ‘lamps with laser light – clever, but worth the effort? (Source: Car Magazine)

First, I was reading a certain car related website where there was an update from a long term test of the latest Audi A8. It featured thoughts on the latest headlamp technology which had been fitted as an option on that model. It struck me how ‘clever’ the technology actually was, and then also the scale of investment in R&D and production engineering which must have gone into bringing it to market. The cost of the option left me open mouthed, £4,900.  I mean, not so long ago, one could buy a new, basic, small car for that amount.

Second, I was sitting at the front of the queue of a car wash (I know … I also own two diesels, how less socially aware and empathetic can I go?) when an 18 registration DB11 pulled onto the end of the queue. My immediate reaction was along the lines of ‘blimey, if I owned a car like that, I’d be washing it myself’ but then it quickly changed to ‘good on the bloke [for a bloke it was in the driving seat] for driving it that much that he clearly does not pamper it and uses it as a daily driver [for it was truly filthy]’.

Of course, I was also doing some kind of reverse-smug-thing reaction, thinking how excessively over-engineered and expensive his DB11 was for daily chores such as those I ask of the Octavia I was sat in at the time. Then I caught sight of a few of the features inside my Octavia and immediately thought about how few of its interior features I actually needed.

You may remember a little while ago I wrote about an enlightening taxi-ride through Barcelona in a Dacia Lodgy – maybe I am still carrying around that experience as some kind of psychological hair shirt? Whatever, these thoughts have got me focused on how much wasteful engineering there is in cars these days.

2CV – a mechanically simple as a knife and fork – what more do you need? (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, we could get into a ‘missing the point’ debate about defining what I mean by waste. A pure-thinking economist will state that supply simply exists to meet demand. So, if people are buying stuff it must be in-demand, because if it wasn’t then no one would buy it and suppliers would stop supplying it and go off and develop new stuff that is in demand. Hence, if people are buying cars so laden with nice-to-haves, there must be demand, and so it’s not ‘waste’.

But I think you know what I’m driving at when I declare that I think it wasteful. Maybe not.

Think instead about the opportunity cost of all this R&D and production of non-essential stuff – or, should I say, stuff that does not improve the efficiency and productivity – that currently goes into modern cars. I know someone is bound to argue that those Audi headlamps are potential life-savers, but is the marginal improvement over more basic LED lamps (which I think are a real safety improvement) really worth the effort (let alone the ‘cool’ dancing rear light show when one merely wants to indicate left or right)? If all that effort and money (it must be billions of pounds/ dollars/ yen across all that gizmo technology) was instead directed at truly useful R&D, how much better off could we all be?

Imagine a car in terms of its essential elements – let’s say: motive force, suspension, comfort, safety – and then think about redirecting the wasted engineering and investment effort that gave us ‘gesture-control’ towards really improving those elements. Please, don’t try to suggest ‘gesture-control’ fits in any of those categories, I’m just not having it. How much better could those elements be? Or, how much cheaper could one make a car (not just to the end consumer, but to society in its broader context)?

Gotta love the Tata Nano, no? (Source: Wikipedia)

I remember Car once describing the 2CV in terms of being as mechanically simple as a knife and fork and all the better for it. The last car I can remember being developed and then lauded (initially at least) for its ‘less is more’ approach was the Tata Nano.

Q. Whatever happened to that as a concept?

A. No one (in ‘the developed world’ at least) wants to buy one.

Of course, such a phenomenon isn’t just the sole preserve of the development of the motor car (mobile phone, anyone?), but the car has become a stand-out example of Wastefully Excessive Development.

I know I sound naïve and I have no idea about what, at a macro level, can be done about it, but I increasingly think that it could become a ‘thing’ that threatens the very existence of the car itself. It’s like arguing to convince people to un-invent technology, or abandon what are, or have been, considered as generations of ‘progress’. Then again, the current social trend towards veganism could be considered as a kind of parallel in terms of rolling back thousands of years of human evolution.

To borrow and fiddle with one car manufacturer’s strap-line; can simple become clever and desirable again?

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

25 thoughts on “Too Much of a Good Thing?”

  1. Development cost for today’s gimmicks is largely borne by suppliers. Gas discharge, LED and laser tech headlamps were under development at Hella or Bosch for many years. Much of the other nonsense found in modern cars is actually software and therefore doesn’t cost too much in our era of CAN/MOST bus based multiplex electrical systems. The next big thing will be that Audi is planning to offer retrofit (or, rather, retro-enable) options. Cars will have every conceivable gimmick on board when they leave the factory and you will be allowed to use only those you payed for. If you want some more crap, you pay online and Audi does a remote enabling of the desired feature (they already do that with some of their stuff today. Most of the infotainment infrastructure in Audis is controlled via a large database in Ingolstadt that does so called “component protection”. If you use CAN bus software to enable something you didn’t pay for like newest navigation maps or real time traffic data download this “component protection” will switch off that feature when it is not registered in the database). You also will be able to rent features for a certain time like extended navigation maps for your holiday or heated seats for your trip to the Alps for a month.
    There was a time when such developments were called feature creep.

    The developoment of the actual car has come to an end and R&D is focusing more on production processes with ever bigger non-repairable component groups and on elecronic nonsense.

    1. This remote activation of extra features is already available in Tesla’s, even auto driving which can be time limited for the experience or fully activated.

    2. I have read about this before but I am sceptical. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.

      Features like electric seats, premium audio, and sunroofs are hardware issues, not software. I get that Tesla fits all the cameras and hardware needed for autopilot even if the customer hasn’t optioned it, but that seems a very specific example.

      Surely you are opening up a black market for hacks to enable these features without paying full price?

    3. Audi’s system is established and pretty water tight.
      Their database can only be accessed by authorised personnel (Audi dealers) and for every VIN there’s a list of the car’s equipment.
      If you take somebody else’s SD card with sat-nav map updates and install them you will be able to use them for a very short time because the update gets deactivated once the infotainment has gone online and checked the database record. If you don’t use a phone the check will be made next time you visit your Audi dealer. The first thing they do with a car in the workshop is connect its OBD interface to their computer and check the equipment list after checking for error codes.
      Providing features in real hardware isn’t that expensive anyway when you consider the prices suppliers get paid for what they deliver to the production line. Heated seats cost only a couple of Euros and if Audi can make one hundered Euros from switching them on for a month in every twentieth car they already made a profit.

  2. It’s been clear to me for a while that the technology excess on new cars has gotten wildly out of control. To the point that most people cannot understand or operate much of the equipment on their cars.

    Ten years ago or more, the luxury manufacturers stopped producing full operating manuals for their cars, due to the fact that they would print to 1000+ pages or more.

    It’s also dangerous and deadly when this crap fails.

    A guy in Detroit nearly died in 100+ degree heat in his garage when the electric door openers in his new Corvette failed, and he couldn’t figure out the manual over-ride.

    And in the Toyota/Lexus drive-by-wire mess, a California Highway Patrol officer and a car full of family members died when the gas pedal failed, and he didn’t have the presence of mind to press and hold the start-stop button for 5 seconds to turn off the engine. (the transmission also had some sort of override to prevent shifting into neutral).

    This is insanity !

    There is no way that this sort of confounding complexity represents any sort of luxury or premium ownership experience.

    Oh, and on the fancy headlights, the Insurance Institute (US auto insurers) tested a bunch and in a number 0f cases (eg Accord) the plain halogen lamps outperformed the fancy LED or HID lamps.

    And in others, the HID was better than the latest and greatest LED (Lexus ES).

    1. LEDs aren’t necessarily better than HID light units neither in terms of power of loight nor in energy consumption. They’re just easier to fit on the production line because they’re one unit and don’t need the separate high tension generator a HID has to ignite the charge/discharge process. They’re also more profitable for manufacurers because in cause of a defect they are replaced as a whole and not just the light source as in a HID. The only benefit for the customer is that LEDs usually last longer than HIDs which have a limited number of start cycles. LEDs aren’t more efficient because they need a lot of energy to cool them (mostly via Peltier elements, the most inefficient way of transporting thermal energy).
      For a couple of years now EU regulations mandate that the car’s owner can replace the light bulbs on his own without using tools or having to go to his dealer. In modern cars there’s not enough room under the bonnet to allow the necessary free access to halogen bulbs, so Audi is giving away HID lights as standard equipment because HIDs aren’t user serviceable units with their high voltage generators.

      Some of the modern nannying crap is downright dangerous even when it works correctly. When you’re driving around a city like Frankfurt where speeds are high and overtaking is happening at extremely close distance an active ACC is a permanent risk because it activates the emergency brake assistant every couple of seconds.

  3. The increasing count of gizmos is a product of the war between manufacturers and their need to outpace (temporarily) the competition. It’s a logic very similar to the cold war between US and USSR…
    1. If they have it, we gotta have it too
    2. Maybe they’re working on it, so we gotta have it first

    And the majority of the buying public, gets behind it, always eager to get the latest gizmos and fads. Eventually it will fizzle out, as it’s happening already with smartphones – it’s almost impossible to bring something new and useful in newer smartphones.

    1. I ditched my smartphone and went over to a Nokia button phone. Having driven some quite advanced recent cars, there was nothing over the traditional controls that I wanted. Someone might do well to design a basic car with almost nothing on it but what is there is made well. Maybe they could allow a SatNav to be added as an option.

    2. You don’t need built-in Satnav. Just use you pho… oh, I see.

  4. After my recent experience of up-to-date motor cars, I can safely state that I can live (and drive) happily without most of more recent ‘improvements’. Particularly the electronic safety systems have the tendency to be either pointlessly hysterical (shrill, unnerving alarm bells informing of ‘tiredness detected’ or an ‘immediate crash’ when neither is accurate) or even outright dangerous (‘lane departure assist’ steering the car into the crash barrier, as its sensors are too unsophisticated to detect the roadworks’ auxiliary marking).

    As always, their are exceptions though: I find the blind spot warning fitted to many cars today useful indeed, just as the progress in terms of lighting technology cannot be debated.

    In many ways, I find the XJ’s excellent outward visibility superior to most of these sensors, just as its becalming demeanour helps maintaining a relaxed, yet attentive driving style (without any alarm bells). But the effectiveness of its headlights is akin to two candles glued on top of the bumper.

    1. In Audis from certain model years you couldn’t start the engine with the driver’s door open and every time you opened the door the engine stalled. The same for the seat belt – no belt, no engine.
      Enforced morning routine: get into car in garage, belt up, drive car out of garage. Get out of car, close garage door. Belt up, restart the engine, drive off driveway. Get ouf of car, close garden door. Get back in car, belt up, restart engine. It took me three weekends with my laptop and a CAN/OBD cable to switch off that nonsense.
      You can release the (electric) handbrake only when your foot is on the brake pedal. That’s particularly annoying if your car happens to have Audi’s CVT with will move off the line very smoothly. Plan for one afternoon with your laptop.
      If I open the door of my car with the engine running there’s an alarm bell loud enough to wake up my neighbours, the same if I open the door with the ignition key in its hole (there’s no lock). One more weekend with laptop…

  5. I read recently that the Tata Nano has not been a success, even in India, and production has virtually stopped. It is widly perceived as a car for the poor and disadvantaged. Consequently, many Indians would prefer to buy a “proper” car second-hand than a new Nano.

    More generally on the subject of the overload of spurious technology on modern cars, I wonder if it’s partly a consequence of increasingly crowded roads, traffic jams and tedious motorway journeys? Instead of focusing on and enjoying the experience of driving, users are increasingly looking for toys to distract them while they sit in traffic or on motorways. Often, these toys will be accessed by touch screens with complex menus, forcing the driver to take their eyes off the road. The ultimate extension of this will be autonomous cars where the occupants take no part in the driving experience. That looks to be a long way off and, in the meantime, many drivers are insufficiently focused on their primary role, with serious consequences for road safety.

  6. Like many other car enthusiasts, I am nostalgic for the old days when Mercedes sold their cars with an imperious disregard for showroom trinkets.

    Yes, you could have a sunroof, radio, or electric seats, but you will pay extra for all of them. What you got as standard was an impeccably engineered car, and then you added those features you wanted (and could afford).

    Nowadays, Mercedes sells cars with voice-activated digital interfaces and other trinkets but torsion beam suspension and Renault engines. The proper engineering is optional.

    1. Jacomo, I absolutely share your sentiments. Back in 1987, I chose a Mercedes-Benz 190E auto as a company car, to the bafflement of my colleagues, who insead spent their allowances on Sierra Ghias, Cavalier CDs or equally well equipped Japanese equivalents. My 190E came with an electric steel sunroof, but no air conditioning, steel wheels, and even the radio was an optional extra. They couldn’t understand how I could choose a “Stuttgart taxi-cab” over their much more flashy motors. I tried to explain about quality and depth of engineering, but it was lost on them, as were (to be fair, irrelevant) arguments about longevity.

      Richard is, I’m afraid, right when he says that proper* engineering, as exemplified by the 190E, is no longer an option on current Mercedes-Benz cars, certainly not on the lower tier models. Last week, the Honest John website posted a video review on the new A-class and Mark, the (always entertaining) reviewer spent an inordinate amount of time on the dashboard trickery, much of which costs extra and, no doubt, flattens Mercedes-Benz’s margins up very nicely.

      Finally, I saw a latest model Megane this morning, a new dark metallic blue example, and, for my money, it’s a far better resolved design than the mechanically similar A-Class.

      * I use this word to mean of a quality higher than is typical from mainstream manufacturers.

    2. Much of the answer lies in the already irreversible global process of the demise of culture, as we’ve known it.

      Trends & what’s ‘IN’ were, traditionally, created by 3-5% of the population, by cultured and trend-setting-endowed individuals. The majority embraced it and the industry was far more predictable.

      Nowadays, the ‘what’s trendy’ public opinion making is increasingly, staggeringly created by the 80% of the population (which are actually zillions of undereducated individuals with their sad YT “channels” and opinions).
      They flock up into a mass-influential ‘media noise’ amorphous mass, and do indeed (really, tangibly so) influence the other 10-20% who actually *do* buy new cars.

      The latter group of 20%, in turn, is, generationally & culturally, too openminded for their own good, because they are afraid of missing out if they stick to the traditional values – in the case of automotive product: engineering & drive properties as a first priority, and gimmicks as nearly last… .

      Being a market-based World, the manufacturers couldn’t care less about the 0.1 – 0.9% of the market (eg. like us here) which are still searching
      for true & genuine features in a new car.

      Luckily, this digital insanity is already so OTT, that it creates a counter-effect: I know many wealthy, or well-off individuals, who already added a very simple, explicitly rugged car to their fleet, just because they’re so totally fed up with their German or Japanese ultra-premium cars beeping and defaulting and resetting all the time.

      The vulgar levels of privacy invasion (as rightly stated below by B.Malcolm),
      as well as certain non-ionising radiation risks, are both huge concerns.

      J.Attali predicted this some 25 yrs ago, when he announced the era of
      “hyper-surveillance”. Nowadays, even a basic is likely to have
      built-in 4-5 cameras that you are aware of, and several others that might be hidden from view. Not to mention if you go for a best-in-class, typical C-segm.mainstream model…

      The automotive product is bound to continue degenerating, until it becomes absurdly unappealing. The only hope is that this trend of totally distracting and unnerving digital features will turn customers into some “unlikely brands”, and we’d probably soon face one or two pleasant surprises
      in terms of extremely simplistic cars re-appearing. I presume that there will be a definite market – the majority of buyers will be people who’d continue to “own” an Audi or BMW or a Benz for the sheer “status aspect”, but who’d use 4 days out of 7 the said “new, simple” car, and use the poshwagen for socializing events etc.. (actually, this “new, simple” cars might very quickly become “hype”, “in” and “desirable”, too, if the YT community decides so…).

      So it could be a rather unpredictable unfolding of events, just as well.

      The final nail in the coffin of the car as we know it, will be (same as the first several nails were…) of the regulatory variety. That is one aspect that the
      “the majority setting trends” absurdism doesn’t touch upon, and it’s the major generator of complexity and unpredictability.

  7. I rented an Audi A5 cabrio for our honeymoon last year – the idea being an open-top would be fun in the French riviera.

    It had electric everything, took me 20 minutes to get out of the rental car park as it took me so long to figure out seat position, sat nav. I couldn’t even get the roof down without several attempts to position the luggage within an unmarked portion of the boot where the roof wouldn’t foul the cases.

    On the road I could barely see out of the back do to the high beltline, (you’d think the view out of a car with no roof would be good – but no!

    Then where we were staying was accessed along a slightly overgrown semi-tarmac’d track. The car fought me along the whole mile of it telling me I was going to crash with beeps and warnings.

    And things like the safety reverse cameras are weird. It takes so much responsibility away from you as driver and commander that I felt far more likely to prang the thing reversing into parking spaces, etc than I would have without the tech. The level of removal looking at a screen – it feels so easy that you might reverse into a pram, a pushchair or a pet.

    So it became a chore. A luxury car for the fun of it was in fact the opposite.
    The functions supposedly there to make driving more relaxed and easy in fact made it a massive stress. The value of the car and my feeling of not really being fully in control of it didn’t help.

    I’d have seriously been happier in a Mk1 Panda like I learnt to drive in in 1990, which—like the 2CV you mention—had everything you needed and nothing you didn’t.

    Talking of the bad visibility because of the high beltline on that Audi—Same goes for ‘privacy glass’ and tiny DLOs on so many cars now – I tried reversing my dad’s Focus estate about 100 yards down a lane about a year ago and literally could not see out of the back without standing up in my seat.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs – I recall the hoo-hah about the ‘thick’ c-pillars on the Mk2 Golf when it came out and how blind-spots of that that were inexcusable.
    Not so much an issue these days, though visibility seems about 40% worse.

    All retrograde.
    I welcome a return to ‘Dumb Cars’ in the way niche phones like the re-issued Nokia and Punkt phones are finding an audience. We just don’t need all this stuff ‘helping’ us.

    1. The minutes I spent driving a current Audi S5 convertible last year were similarly joyful as your experience – with the S version’s main ‘benefit’ being the most embarrassing engine noise I’ve ever had to contend with (as in: constantly trying to muffle as best as I can through most delicate accelerator inputs).

  8. Thanks for another well written and thought provoking article. I agree wholeheartedly with all the points here bar the slight dig at veganism.
    My current car has LED headlamps (standard fitment) and they’re the only thing I really like about this car. Driving at night has become so much less tiring although there is a problem in that they annoy some people judging by the headlight flashes or aggressive full beams I get. I suspect their anger stems from not being accustomed to the harsh white light rather than actually being dazzled.
    I hate the touchscreen (it’s a Seat). It requires too much attention and is completely unergonomic. I would love to see more R&D money directed at suspension so as to achieve the sort of fluid, smooth riding handling that Peugeots and Citroëns of the 80’s achieved. I’d also like to bring back buttons instead of touch screens. When you’ve driven a car for a few thousand miles, you’ll know instinctively where every button is regardless of how many there are.

    1. Hi, I apologise if you took it as a dig (at veganism), it was not meant that way. Possibly erroneously, I do see it as an extraordinary trend whereby people are choosing to eat as humans would have done before they developed technology which enabled the consumption of meat. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s going back to what and how the human body was designed to consume and hence reduces the threat of excess toxins in the body which can cause cancer, heart disease and diabetes. So, I apologise if it was poorly expressed.

  9. There are a three tech features on my current 1997 Mercedes E 430 T-Modell that I did not expect it to have but that I now don’t really want to live without any more:

    – the xenon headlamps: they make a very pleasant, bright light, night driving now is a joy
    – the automatic windshield wiper rain detection: just set it to the interval setting and the (beautiful) one arm wiper will only move when there is just the right amount of rain drops on the windshield.
    – the self-dimming (interior) rear-view mirror: it works so well I always forget it is there

    This also serves to show that the thing with comfort seems to be that one gets used it so very quickly. I wouldn’t have noticed how much I got accustomed to these three features, had I not suddenly missed them on my (new) Golf 4 (2.3). I was fiddling endlessly with the wiper interval and still couldn’t get a satisfactory setting. Would I have felt this way, had I not been spoiled by the Mercedes? Maybe not…

    Regardless, I think the three below features (or should I rather say “gimmicks”), that I find quite defining for the past few years of automotive development, will be much less missed:

    – the Mini (and by now some others too) Logo being projected on the side walk next to the front door
    – the Audi (and by now many more) turning signals doing their little light dance
    – the Rolls Royce (how has nobody copied this?) Logo always staying upright in the centre of the wheel (I must confess, this I find brillant!)

    On a third point: I think VW has implemented a very clever infotainment solution on the Up!. A dock on top of the dashboard turns your smartphone equipped with the right app I (Richard’s Nokia probably won’t be compatible though…) into the infotainment system. This makes a lot of sense to me. Why put another screen in the car, that will be outdated next year, when we all carry a very capable one with us already? Has no other manufacturer thought of this?

    1. Phone integration is definitely the way forward and pretty much offered by all manfacturers now from what I can see.

  10. I find Mr Robinson’s article more thought-provoking than the comments! That’s a bit of a dig, but I was hoping for a bit more of the philosophical rather than the particular. Still, it is what it is, and so I will offer a blend.

    My 2008 vehicle has features every one of which I use. It has no infotainment or sat nav as it seems to be called in Britain. At the time, you could buy an optional Mark 1 system, or from reading the forums, instal a TomTom in the convenient cubby hole at the top of the centre stack. You would have to be severely geographically challenged to get lost in my province – there simply aren’t enough roads in an area one quarter the size of Great Britain but with a population of only a million. A paper map suffices. So naturally, the masses such as they are, with the typical lack of attention in school to learn anything useful, snapped up nav with abandon. Thus overall, it seems to be a good thing, and useful for road trips to Montreal or New England. That’s a minimum of 800 or 500 miles one way. How we never got lost driving to Indianapolis in 1982 without an artificial voice telling us to turn right in half a mile is unfathomable. Luckily, we had, you know, maps.

    Today, powered by Google, American tourists in Nova Scotia by the hundreds in huge RVs turned down a residential dead end road a few hundred metres from the obvious car ferry terminal staring them in the face with clear large overhead signage. Ahem. See what I mean about about not paying attention in school? No reflection on Americans, by the way, Nova Scotians happily drive off into the woods at the behest of Siri, despite obvious signs that a road no longer exists. Do you believe the robot or your lying eyes when you’re parting the bushes? The case has already been settled for many – the robot. I got around London on foot with an A to Z in me pocket decades ago. God knows what people do today! Er, don’t write in, I know what they do and update their FB page at the same time while being oblivious. “We’ve got another one Fred. Didn’t see Joe’s road roller.”

    My car has a useful heating strip at the bottom of the windshield to thaw frozen wipers. Amazing how many owners flip the wipers on when they’re encased in ice, then wonder why the motor fails – better cars have thermal cutouts of course to protect owners from themselves.

    You can turn off traction control and the owner’s manual states when that would be a good idea – deep snow. I managed to read the manual twice the first evening of ownership – it was not overly long. It has heated power front seats, but only the driver has decent adjustment. It’s the lack of decent seat adjustment for front passengers in 2019 cars that really shows where a few Euro/bucks/quid have been saved, while the electrickery is layered on endlessly, which shows what costs actual money.

    The automatic gear selector on my car has a lever whose movements and detents became second nature in an hour, seeing as it is the standard arrangement used since 1965 (before designers had flights of fancy starting about 2005) plus paddle shifters, highly useful in certain situations such as slowing down for oncoming police without obvious brake dive. Newer cars have selectors of highly dubious arrangement, from rotary control which needs to be peered at if one is not to operate the climate control knob instead, to the atrociously cheap bendy plastic 99 cent ball point pen clicker of Mercedes hidden behind the wheel. Honda has buttons hidden in a plastic minor recreation of the Alps – it is utterly useless. And so on. Uselessness for the sake of being different.

    My old car has a good sunroof l never use, automatic climate control (of poor regulation), regular cruise control, and a radio operable by your great grandmother who died in 1989. Phone calls can wait. There is no menu with lists, surely poor ergonomics carried over from early Windoze when a better idea eluded Billy and his boys over the design weekend, yet frozen in the imagination of designers ever since. My first digital camera, I threw away. It substituted menu option lists for its poor lens performance and was more trouble than it was worth. My car requires no digging through lists to turn on the back electric defroster – there is a button. It has Remote door opening, a key for operating the ignition instead of a 1930 Bentley push button, and a remote start for extra chilly days.

    That’s it for features. Almost enough. It was the top model in the range for 2008. The headlights are poor, though.

    What would I like? Heated steering wheel, front and rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning to compensate for the bunker slits of windows now standard, backup camera, automatic emergency braking and good headlights. AND a proper adjustable passenger front seat on a popular price machine! The inevitable infotainment should not operate so opaquely that it takes weeks to learn properly for anyone but a complete techno-nerd. The ergonomics of these are rubbish, so I have faint hope, not being of the type who talks out loud when alone or given to gesturing futilely when driving. We get bent over by poorly-designed techno-frippery, where we have to adapt to some anti-social fool’s take on reality rather than relying on the obvious. That would be far too simple of course. Whizbang is needed. Judging by the price of aftermarket “head” units these cheap screens cost manufacturers a hundred bucks. And lookit the expensive switches they save!

    On balance, I can see that a lot of the more modern features are useful. But adequacy of implementation varies wildly by manufacturer. Squawking, beeping alarms, when there’s nothing to report, glaring orange BRAKE lights on the dash when there’s plenty of room – it all makes you wonder what an amateur-hour cock-up these manufacturers have in store for their autonomous cars! Implementation is the problem, that and poor ergonomics of the screens.

    The Tata Nano was a motorized wheelbarrow with a roof, down to the laughable wheel bearings. You couldn’t fool people with it. The Dacia crew moved to Chennai/Madras and made the Kwid there, perfectly acceptable except when meeting a shrub on the loose head-on at 90 km/h.

    The German luxo-barges feature fragrance dispensers, quilted upholstery for the bordello look circa 1900, laser headlights so over the top expensive as the article suggests they’re no solution and glass I/Ps to impress the impressionable. It’s just extra decoration l’d place little store in, bad taste for the nouveaux riche. Your real money doesn’t bother with this stuff. It’s for the semi-wealthy. Prince Philip drives a Land Rover.

    Oh, yes, finally, having had a tour of the bunker Audi erected in my city to repair cars for all Canada that show faults on being disembarked, I’ve seen the technicians online with the experts in Toronto. They can tell, as Dave remarks, if you’ve had a bit of a fiddle with your car. As I remarked to the manager, if I buy the car, l’ll do any damn thing I want to it – if you deny me warranty on something I haven’t touched that goes wrong, or be refused service after the four year warranty is up, see you in court. I’m not renting your intellectual property, I’m buying a durable consumer good. The Germans cannot rewrite our consumer fitness for purpose laws unilaterally.

    So my next car gets its LTE aerial link cut. It’s nobody else’s business where I drive or when I do it. I’m serious. Our privacy is eroded far more than enough already. If I deign to use Android Auto for Maps on a trip, fine, I know what I’m getting into and I pay for data on my smartphone. Having a car manufacturer gather my data for free without asking, or Google Assistant or Amazon’s car app listening in all the time and suggesting bad burger joints to eat at while I’m on the move is completely intolerable. And I won’t have it.

  11. I’m a bit surprised at how uniform the comments are. I used to be by myself when I criticized the electronic excess of new vehicles.

    It reminds me of the late 1950’s vehicle market in North America. The manufacturers had market research for several years showing that much of the buying public wanted smaller, lighter, less gaudy, less expensive and more fuel efficient cars.

    And, imported cars had their first wave of success, exceeding ten percent of the market.

    Yet Detroit persisted with new models every year that were heavier, more chrome, higher tail fins.

    Nevertheless, the string was eventually played out. Peak chrome was in 1958, peak tail fins was in 1959, and peak mass was in 1960.

    The 1958 recession really hit sales of the big, expensive cars and forced change.

    Detroit belatedly introduced smaller cars like the Valiant and Ford Fairlane.

    I think something similar is coming for the current vehicle market. Although I suspect it will take a major economic downturn to really change buyer behavior and vehicle designs.

    1. I was part of that U.S market in 1959 and 60 when the no frill “compacts” were introduced but it didn’t last long before they grew, added extras and we were right back to where it all began. By that time the Imports were also fading as their previous conservative buyers began embracing larger cars offering more and more equipment and nothing has changed since except during the fuel crisis in the seventies.
      I still love both basic no nonsense cars like the 2CV as well as the latest high tech ones but there can be some questionable extras as well as poor ergonomics on present cars.
      These will surely either succeed or fail with buyers and common sense will prevail.
      Thanks for the Valiant link I’ve enjoyed that immensely as I owned a 62 black 2 door pillarless with the aluminium slant six and push button selector automatic, and my dad an estate.

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