Watching the latest trends in the auto industry has me wondering how soon people will be asking this question. Like reminiscing about jelly shoes and acid wash jeans, I fear hands-on time behind the wheel is headed for the memory box. As we become more gadget obsessed and wired for anything, car-makers are trying to keep up. If you think I’m being alarmist then go to your car and pull up this page from your phone. Now you can read our Awarnings and sit in traffic.
No, I don’t recommend this, but it's the tip of a Titanic sinker.
Cars are for driving. A revolutionary sentence in this day and age, I realize. But one look down the typical car-option sheet gives the impression you’re buying more of a computer than a conveyance. Bluetooth integration is nice, and iPod control is helpful, but these things shouldn’t sell you a car. And if you’re picking a vehicle based on the quality of its navigation system, may I suggest you put both hands on the wheel and look at the road. That’s navigating in its truest form.
Overreacting you say? Sadly, No. Two recent developments show just how far down the list you have to look to find “driving” as a factor in a car purchase.
First, may I present Ford’s “Microsoft SYNC” feature. You’ve seen the commercial of two guys driving and talking to the integrated iPod. “Neat”, you say. Cool feature? Yes. But Ford cars with the Sync feature are outselling other Ford cars at a rate of more than 2 to 1. And now, in response, Ford has released a commercial for their Mercury Milan which spends all 30 seconds discussing the features of the SYNC, only mentioning that the car it’s in “looks like this”. Which means, essentially, they could have rolled it through the commercial with the sync working but no engine and have told the truth.
You’re supposed to want this car because your Bluetooth phone and MP3 player are listening to you when you talk. That's like choosing a steak restaurant based on their chairs.
Secondly, there was a recent contest where car companies and people with brains twice the size of mine made cars which could drive through an obstacle course without a driver. The winning vehicle was a Chevy Tahoe. It navigated the whole course so well that GM is now talking about integrating self driving technology into the near future.
That's right. Self. Driving.
So now you and I can sit back talking to our iPod and not even looking at the road. Heck, cars are already starting down this path, with Mercedes making automatic braking, Honda, Volvo, and others making lane departure systems. And with “Adaptive Cruise Control” becoming more common, we’ve already been saved the hassle of occasionally noticing taillights and touching the brakes.
Now, I’ll admit that sleeping our way to the office as our car handles the stop and go could be wonderful. But at that point let’s put all our money into better public transit.
The Awarning is this: Own a car for the joy of driving. If you can get fun options to better integrate your pocket-full of gadgets, fine. However, if the designers were more concerned with Bluetooth than performance with bite, get out. Go find a car that asks you to drive it; remember why carving a great corner is the best entertainment, and how proper integration means you can actually feel the road.