Reader Question: What One Feature…?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Stuart asks: If you could wave a magic wand and pick one feature which used to be available in cars that no longer is, what would it be?

My reply: I think I’ll choose the one which subsumes so many. Simplicity.

The complexity (and with it, cost) which now characterizes new cars is excessive. I think it is the result of cars themselves having been essentially perfected – years ago. There’s no longer much ground to gain in a meaningfully functional sense.

Consider the differences between a car made in the 1930s and a car made in the 1960s. Tremendous functional improvements made over those 30 years. Same again 1970s vs. 1990s.

But by the ’90s, cars – all of them – had achieved a kind of universal goodness in that all came with reliable, easy-to-start/don’t stall out fuel-injected engines; most came standard with AC. All were – and are – so easy to drive the proverbial caveman could do it.

So how to justify the new cars – next year’s new model?

By adding baubles and gadgets that add complexity and cost. And which are beginning to  make cars less reliable and durable because of the intricacy and inherent fragility of these complex systems.

A good example: Drive-by-wire vs. simple mechanical control for throttle (and other things). Drive-by-wire does reduce production variances and makes assembling the car easier and cheaper. But it also introduces a needless (relative to the benefit to the car’s owner) degree of complexity and – inevitably – cost.

Things like power windows  are no longer dimple/discrete systems but governed by complicated Body Control Modules. Cars have multiple computers now.  Six or more air bags. Functionally ludicrous-sized wheels and stiff sidewall tires.

Imagine what is possible given the mature technology available. A brand-new car with a fuel-injected engine capable of averaging 50MPG and getting to 60 in less than 10 seconds, with AC (manual) and power windows and a good stereo… for about $10,000.

It could be available next year – but won’t be – because of the demented obsession with complexity for its own sake.

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I’ll make a more conventional answer. Vent windows. I’ve got three ford coupes and the cheapest and oldest of them has the windows behind the b-pillar open and the other two don’t. The next answer is functional gutters. Again the oldest car has well functioning gutters the other two don’t.

  2. I would say the only way to avoid all that extra crap in a brand new car for today would be to buy a bare bones commuter (Nissan Versa S, to mean the plain “S” model) or a bare bones work truck. (especially a 3/4 ton). Anything else has too much stuff. ‘Frinstance: My brother replaced the drivers mirror in an ’03 Lincoln Town Car (granted, that is not any type of bare bones car). He had to remove the drivers door panel with all the switches (doors, locks, seat etc.) Now none of that stuff works! Arghhh.


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