Some of the most innovative automotive technology is slowly dying off.
Just about everyone in this industry would agree that new technology helps sell cars. Yet, sometimes even the most impressive tech fails to sell. It may have to do with high cost, or limited functionality, or even poor marketing. But there always are specific reasons why it fails to catch on.
For example, it looks like adaptive cruise control is getting a cool reception in the U.S. My theory why it’s not more popular: Once you set your speed, if someone cuts in front of you, the adaptive cruise control slows your car down, which leaves room for someone else to cut in front of you, which slows your car again. Before you know it, everyone on the road is passing you. Unless you’re in very light traffic conditions, adaptive cruise control is frustrating to use. No one likes to be frustrated.
Night vision is dead on arrival. It’s like watching a tiny black-and-white TV screen with snowy reception. Maybe subsequent iterations will be better, but no one wants to pay a lot of money for something that works only marginally, no matter how promising it may be.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is 4-wheel-steering in large pickups and SUVs. What a fantastic technology! It gives the biggest Chevy Silverado the same turning radius as a compact Saturn Ion. But when it was launched, it was packaged with other options that cost about $5,000. Subsequent 4WS price cuts came too little, too late and it died. Not many will pay too much for a technology, no matter how well it works.
Driver-controlled adaptive suspensions are hard to find anymore. They allow drivers to select sport, normal or comfort modes at the touch of a button. But to ensure that drivers can tell the difference between settings, the sport mode is rock hard and the comfort mode is mushy. Most customers just leave it in the normal mode, so what’s the point in having it?
My prediction for the next endangered technologies: the self-parking feature offered on the Lexus LS 460, and the launch control on theM6. After repeated attempts, I could not get these to work – much to the gleeful amusement of my co-workers and friends. There is no greater turn-off than having people laugh at you while you try to impress them with expensive gadgets.
As the industry works on alternative engines and fuels, new communications devices, sophisticated entertainment systems and other alluring technologies, it ought to periodically visit the technology graveyard. There are important lessons to be learned as to why some good ideas never took off.
John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and Speed Channel.