What we can live without
Features added to cars during the last 10 years that we hate
Smart, multistage airbags; satellite navigation; electronic stability control; and LED headlights are now prevalent.
They are just a few of the many technologies that have evolved from research and development projects to mainstream vehicle features since 1996.
By the time we turn 20, even greater strides in safety, handling and convenience will have become commonplace as the pace of development accelerates.
“The vehicle of the future will offer active and passive surveillance technologies that cover 360 degrees,” says Martin Haub, group vice president for r&d and product marketing at French supplier Valeo. “Such technologies could even lead to cars that communicate with each other.”
Haub says 90 percent of auto industry innovations from now on will be driven by electronics, making complexity and cost an ever-growing concern for planners. “The challenge for suppliers and carmakers alike will be to offer the reliability of the aviation industry at consumer prices,” he says.
But automotive history is full of technologies that were unreliable, futile or useless, for example: rotary engines, push-button transmissions and voice synthesizers. And many devices are mandated by lawmakers, whether they make sense or not.
Costly diesel particulate filters will become required in Europe despite their marginal effect on air quality.
Pedestrian-protection technology sounds worthwhile, noble even, but will cost the industry and consumers dearly. Can the costs and weight that will be added to vehicles be justified?
Technology also can be entirely too complex to be of much value to the target user. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system requires that functions previously accessible by a push of a button need to be accessed through complex menus opened by using a large knob.
Users often get confused trying to navigate BMW’s system and have to take their eyes off the road to figure it out.
Mercedes-Benz has a similarly complex system in the new S-class sedan.
Audi offers a less complex system: it uses four buttons to switch between menus and a controller to make selections within the menus.
Voice recognition systems, which require precisely memorized, precisely enunciated commands, also seem too complicated. Forget the words or mumble the command and you can forget getting the desired function.
Similarly, smart keys meant to free owners from the supposed tyranny of having to keep a key in the ignition while driving, or having to take a key from one’s pocket to open the vehicle’s doors, seem like a solution in search of a need.
Continuously variable transmission technology has stalled, especially in Europe. Claims that the units improve fuel efficiency and thus reduce emissions hold true only for select applications.
In general the CVT is only efficient when operating in a narrow rpm band. But people like to feel gear changes, which is why many CVTs are re-programmed to simulate them.
This makes the engine oscillate around its optimal rev point, negating the fuel-saving benefits of steady rpm.
More complicated than life itself but without any of the fun.
Where did I put that key? One more way to feel stupid.
Continuously variable transmissions
They make an internal combustion engine sound like an electric motor.
Automated manual transmissions
By the time they shift, the car is at stalling speed.
Don’t forget the magic words. Or else.
Drive by wire
If it doesn’t work in brakes, please don’t touch the steering.
Seat belt reminders
Safety regulators like them, but we don’t.
Drop the gimmicks and give us back a simple knob or button to quickly find our favorite stations.
Electric sliding doors, tailgates
Benefits don’t outweigh the added weight or costs.
Who needs it? Keep your mind on the traffic.