I’ll admit that I’m a gadget geek. If it’s new tech, I’ll usually want it. But looking at the latest crop of new vehicles, I had to stop and give my head a shake. Hmmm, have we gone just a bit too far?
Automakers are constantly competing to have the best and most advanced products on the market. That’s what they do. And maybe they feel they are simply meeting the demands of consumers who are presumed to be gadget hungry for the latest and greatest and even most gimmicky components within our vehicles.
Considering what a car is supposed to do - transport us - are we over the top in some ways? And is it costing us money we don’t really need to be spending?
As an enthusiast, I usually have my face buried in an automotive magazine and of course I’ll talk to just about anyone when it comes to new products on the market. But the light didn’t really twitch on until I was reading about a Lexus car that parks itself. That’s right, parks itself.
OK, I’m all for manufacturers constantly evaluating safety and upgrading that aspect of our vehicles. Electronic stability control was developed and implemented in many cars to prevent a skid or spin and soon will be standard equipment, mandated by law. In 1990, there were few vehicles with even a driver’s-side airbag. Now many vehicles - even economy vehicles - come standard with six airbags with as many as 11 available in some models. Since safety is essential, these advancements are important and we need to support them.
But now our rides are equipped with every possible “comfort and convenience feature” the manufacturers can think of. The common road map has been replaced by ever-improving satellite navigation systems that talk to us and can literally plot out, turn by turn, an entire crosscountry trip. Not sure where the nearest ABM is? The car will tell you. I also recently read about “self-healing” paint technology that uses heat and sun to clear up small scratches. Self-healing paint? We have blind-spot sensors (whatever happened to being alert and shoulder checking?) and technology where the outer rear wheel spins faster in a corner to improve turning. And how about that 14-speaker surround-sound audio system? Wouldn’t eight or 10 pretty much cover it off?
While all of these advancements are really quite interesting and appeal to those who are drawn to gadgets and technology, I really have to wonder about the point of it all. At the same time we want vehicles that put out the most power but also perform efficiently. But it’s well known that vehicle weight, which increases consumption, is partly the result of packing our vehicles with technology that might not be all that necessary for driving. And are we ultimately paying for it in the sticker price because it’s expensive technology to research, develop, integrate and implement? And what about repairing this technology? Is that not costly? You know where money is coming from (look at your pocket).
Maybe instead of focusing so much attention on competing to have the most leading-edge and most radically developed vehicle on the road, perhaps the emphasis should be brought a little closer to home. Safety systems designed to protect everyone when a crash takes place seems to be more important than actually preventing those crashes in the first place. Along with mandating more airbags and tougher rollover standards, how about putting some standards on brake-pad material, probably the most overlooked and yet the most important aspect of stopping and thereby prevent crashes.
And how about crafting better drivers via mandatory courses, drivers who can avoid collisions in the first place, drivers who know how to be alert, drivers who can shoulder check and drivers who can actually park their own vehicles. In my mind, that would be money better spent than on mere technology that sometimes seems to be for the sake of technology.
An optional system for the Lexus LS460 will parallel-park the car. Don’t you have to learn that to get a driver’s license?
The Infiniti EX35 as well as other Infiniti models come with “self-healing” paint that fixes small scratches all by itself. Interesting, indeed, but the cost of developing such features is built into the vehicle and ultimately contributes to the price.
Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of her own book, the host of Spike TV’s “Power Block,” the former host of TLC’s Overhaulin’ and a writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can email her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.