Engineer Mike Hichme (left) and designer Stuart Norris (right): GM's design and engineering teams colocated in an effort to understand the customer's needs and choose the right technologies to support those needs.
In an earlier column, Chuck discussed the rampant proliferation of electronics in modern automobiles. We're soon going to be at a tipping point where it will no longer be a question of whether consumers (used to be known as drivers) will be able to restrain themselves from being distracted by all the on-board telematics/electronics/information systems. And that's not to even mention McDonalds, the kids watching DVDs in the back, and texting while talking while driving. The logical endpoint of this is either autonomous vehicles (leave the driving to us, literally speaking) or IVHS. I don't believe autonomous cars will be viable for quite a while, DARPA and Google notwithstanding. (Even if they worked reliably, there are too many liability issues.) I do believe that Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems need to be revived. A great infrastructure project -- job creation -- and a way to keep cars moving efficiently on the highway while ensuring lives are saved.
The automakers could stop proliferation of electronics in a heartbeat if they really wanted, but they sell cars through features and the features require more electronic control. Given the state of the automotive market, no one's going to volunteer to build a car with less features. They're so busy competing for a smaller pie that they end up offering capabilities that bring phones, music and Internet into the vehicle, even though they know these features are distracting to drivers.
You raise a good point, Ann. If, as you suggest, the technology-inventing generation is getting old enough to buy luxury cars, than that should be good news for the rest of us who can't afford high-end vehicles. Luxury cars are a great place for technology to start out, because it gives the automakers a chance to build up economies of scale before they offer the technology to entry-level drivers.
Chuck, the north end of the technology-inventing generation turned 60 recently, so although it's a small group at that end, the shift has already happened. I wonder iwhether they will want to buy luxury vehicles at all. Many of my contemporaries are not at all interested. I'm sure not.
I agree, many of us at the north end are not interested in luxury vehicles in the older sense of those cars. But I see a lot of people my age (boomer) have shifted to SUVs over the past decade or so. SUVs seem to have become the luxury vehilces of the boomers. In weight, size and gas consumption, they exceed the luxurty vehiles of the WWII generation.
Rob, I'm right up there at that north end along with you. So far, none of my friends have shifted to SUVs, which makes me happy, since they are such gas guzzlers. If SUVs have become the new luxury vehicles for seniors, then they're not much different from the ones our parents drove, except for some obvious differences in appearance. It's too bad that luxury vehicles, where innovation often is implemented, as Chuck points out, have to be so consistently unsustainable in terms of fuel consumption.
Yes, Ann, it's ironic that the outdoorsy vehicles that seemed so much cooler than our parents' luxury cars have become luxury cars themselves. And with little time spent doing outdoorsy activities. Now the argument I hear for SUVs is that in a collision the driver and passengers are much safer in an SUV.
When it comes down to it, the SUV is just another city-based luxury car that guzzles gas.
I agree, Rob, that SUVs aren't always what they appear to be. And the reason that they are safer is simply that they are usually based on truck bodies, which makes them weigh more, which is partly why their mileage is so low, etc. etc.
If I want a truck--which I do--I'll buy a truck, not one of those.
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