I grew up reading every automotive magazine my allowance would allow – Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and Road & Track to name a few. While the product today is nowhere near my sentimental mid-1970’s Fords, Chevys, Plymouths, Mazdas and Datsuns it looks like the summary performance and specification tables are just about where they were 40-years ago. While the industry touts it produces computers on wheels, the enthusiast magazines continue to publish price as tested; top and zero to speeds; engine horsepower and torque; transmission gear ratios; total weight and distribution; handling g-forces; tire sizes; and, well, you get my point.
The industry laments why the brightest kids in the class gravitate to computer application development rather than automotive engineering. The industry loyalists question why traditional auto shows have given way to the CES show and other high-tech platforms. Maybe it’s because when we talk, describe and compare the vehicles of today we continue to talk about them with the same points of reference that we are most comfortable with; that is, what we grew up with. And that’s understandable. After all, I still have to multiply 5 and 5.7 engine liter displacements by 61 to get my childhood reference points of 302 and 351 cubic inch displacements (yes, I came from a Ford family).
Battery electric and hybrid vehicles naturally direct reviews and lingo towards techie talk – electric drive motors that are rated in kiloWatts (kW) and battery packs that are rated in kiloWatt-hours (kWh). I am trying hard to memorize reference points back to horsepower and distance per tank.
The vehicle manufacturers and the enthusiast press would do the industry a great service if it made standard vehicle description references to the number of on-board, computer control processor modules; the number of forward-, rear- and side-facing cameras; the communication links with Bluetooth, wifi, and radio; the number of ultra-sonic, radar, and infrared sensors; and the like that are the technologies behind advanced driver assistance system technologies such as lane departure warning, frontal collision warning, crash imminent braking and dynamic brake support and the United States New Car Assessment Program (USNCAP) ratings. These technologies are going to become as ever common as independent control arms and port fuel injection.
In addition to the increasing complexity of on-board technologies that the industry needs to educate the consumer on, the variety of acquisition options is also increasing. If a customer reads the vehicle specifications for the steering turning radius to compare vehicles they may also want to know if the vehicle is available in an OEM or third-party’s subscription ownership service. That is as much a vehicle spec as the steering system if customers no longer buy a physical, vehicle unit but mobility as a service.
The vehicle itself and the user experience surrounding it has changed greatly over the last 40-years. How vehicles are compared against, shopped for, bragged about, and envied after needs to catch up with the technology that is on the road today, and will be dramatically surpassed going forward.