It’s been said – and there is truth to it – that new cars are a lot like cell phones. Or rather, they try hard to emulate them. One you carry; the other carries you. But there is an inherent problem with designing a car to be like a cell phone.
The former is designed to be thrown away after about two years – maybe a little longer but definitely not much longer. Who has a ten year-old cellphone? Who would want one? It would be like wearing parachute pants and being too legit to quit . . . in 2021. What dazzles on the showroom floor today looks dated almost tomorrow. Five years from now you might as well walk around wearing Hammer’s parachute pants.
Electronic things age faster than a crack-smoking hottie. It’s a permutation of Moore’s Law. How do you instill double the number of transistors every couple of years in a thing already manufactured? How do you make a five-year-old cell phone built into your car’s dashboard not look like a five-year-old cell phone?
A car has to be viable for at least ten years, in order to amortize what it costs. Unless, of course, you don’t buy the car. If you subscribe to it – i.e., pay monthly/annually, eternally – for your plan.
Also just like a cell phone.
It is one thing to toss a $50 made-in-China (say it like Orange Man) smartphone – or trade in an $800 iPhone for the latest iPhone after a year or two. It is another thing to toss or trade a car you spent $35,000 on after a couple of years because it can’t be “updated” anymore or it costs too much to “update” it.
Mechanical things tend to remain useful for longer than electronic things.
Cars have been so much longer, having computers installed in them decades before we carried them in our pockets. The first computer-controlled engine management systems were installed in the ’70s – in models like the Cadillac Seville – and by the mid-late ’80s, practically every new car had a computer in addition to an engine. The computer controlling the engine. Then the transmission. Today, they control practically everything, even the gear selector and accelerator pedal.
But cars didn’t get cell phone-emulating touchscreen interfaces (and “apps”) until relatively recently. Today, practically every car has one and is designed to mimic the appearance and functionality of the cell phone.
The car has become the app.
But apps are ephemeral. They bloom and flower like spring dandelions and then wilt and die. One can only do so much updating. In time – not very much time – the underlying hardware is no longer able to support the latest software. It’s true of the computer you carry in your pocket and the one on your desk and also the one parked in your garage.
With the difference being the one in your pocket and the one on your desk doesn’t involve a six-year payment plan and the expectation that after you’re done paying, the thing you just paid for won’t be ready for the recycling bin.
That’s a problem with a mobile cell phone – i.e., a modern car designed to be exactly that. The cell phone is embedded in the car’s architecture and specific to that particular make and model of car. It is probably also proprietary; i.e., the company that made it has the rights to its workings and no else can legally make a replacement for it.
And because these electronic interfaces are specific to the particular make/model of car they were originally installed in – and because it is common for makes/models to be completely redesigned after just a few years in production and – often – not many of that particular make/model produced – there isn’t much economic incentive to produce replacement parts.
Have you tried getting a six-year-old cell phone repaired?
How about a three-year-old TV, which is also a computer and a cell phone emulator?
There used to be – in the Before Time – shops devoted to the repair of TVs. These pre-cell-phone-emulating TVs were heavy and their tube-type displays didn’t have the fine resolution of a modern flat-screen TV. But they did last longer and when they had a problem you could usually get it fixed. It was common for people to keep a TV for 10 years or even longer, if you can imagine. Phones – the ones that plugged into walls – made calls for 20 or 30 years.
Because you didn’t tap or swipe them, you didn’t have to toss them.
. . .
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