The answer to your question, Alex, is that these companies will cross-pollinate. Some old line auto companies were initially dismissive of Tesla, for example, but when the Roadster did 244 miles on a charge, even Bob Lutz of GM acknowledged that all automakers could learn from them. Now, Tesla is teaming with Toyota on an electric vehicle.
One trend I can't get my brain around -- if indeed it's a real trend -- is what seems to be the bifurcation between the traditional automakers and the thousand blooming flowers of tiny car startups. (For the latter, this is both in terms of company size as well as the size of the cars they make.) So on the one hand, we have GM getting deeper into both telematics and customer-driven design, as Chuck has expertly written about. Yet we also have a grass-roots sector springing up in the EV space, as if it were 1910 all over again. So will these two arenas remain separate, cross-pollinate; will one take over the other or will the little guys one day disappear as quietly as they arrived?
Jenn: No, you're not off base. Let's look at the distraction issue first. More legislation will undoubtedly have to be handed down. The problem is, as much as the public complains about driver distraction, many people want to bring their iPods and phones into their vehicles. Automakers know this, and they reasonably conclude that they need to market these features in order to compete. Standards will help simplify the technology and reduce the distraction, but they won't eliminate it. To eliminate it, we all have to be ready to surrender our phones and iPods.
Regarding cost: Yes, the proliferation of electronics is affecting cost. But most of the infotainment features start out at the high end, in the luxury cars, where the extra cost can be more easily absorbed. They usually don't trickle down to the mid-level and low-end vehicles until the economies of scale allow for it to result in a modest cost difference. Even then, many of these features will reach low-end vehicles as an option, when they do arrive. Mandated safety features (airbags, electronic stability control, etc) are another matter -- they are more likely to add cost to low-end vehicles, because the buyer can't opt out.
Although intrigued by all the technology going into automobiles these days, I can't help but wonder how much all of these automobiles actually cost to build and how much they sell for. Are they/will they be in mass production when only, I anticipate, a small portion of the population will be able to buy them?
Also, on the infotainment side: is this feasible when more and more states are cracking down on unsafe drivers ie: the ban on texting while driving in Massachusetts? I wouldn't be surprised if more and more legislation was handed down based on the features being added to autos.
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