High-end luxury cars are starting to resemble first-class airport lounges and it’s bothering me.
The Porsche Panamera has a dang tray table. Just about every German luxury car has the option to put an LCD screen on the back of the front seats, for entertainment. Who puts $100k+ down on a car so that someone else can drive you around? The seats recline, have tablets to control their massage and scent-control functions. Of course they’re heated and ventilated.
I’m fine with cars as things that merely get you from point A to point B, and I’m fine with rich people buying extravagant cars, but I’m not okay with this airport lounge stuff. No one likes airports! They’re miserable! Stop designing things to resemble airports!
Human design: what went into deciding how a human-facing thing is made? How did they decide to put the infotainment screen there? Why are BMW dashboard lights orange-ish? Who designs gauges and do they know what they’re doing? What the hell is going on with Mercedes dashes? When will we stop using gearshifts? When will the scourge of the PRNDL knob leave us?
Mechanical design: i.e. why is this car the way it is from an engineering point-of-view? Why is the rear-engine 911 unique, special, and kinda dumb? What makes the BMW M1 a weird BMW and yet perhaps the most special? Why do Ferrari engines catch fire so frequently? Do BMW/Audi/Mercedes design their cars as sedans, coupes, or hatchbacks first?
History: What puts some brands, e.g. Ferrari and Porsche over the others? Is Audi interesting? What is the gestalt of Honda or Toyota? How did the Viper come to have a tractor engine and a Lamborghini body? How does a BMW M car become “the next coming of BMW Jesus?”
Emotion: What makes people think a car is special? What kind of person owns a Koenigsegg or Pagani? Why own a Lamborghini? Is it practical to drive a Ferrari touring car? When does an Acura TL make sense for someone who enjoys cars? What will enthusiast cars look like once electric cars are the norm; will we finally enter a world of boring aerolumps?
…amongst other things. So many questions, so many subjective answers. That’s what makes it fun!
To me, a great car is equal part shape, technology, sound, and history. It seems like the future of cars is all technology at the expertise of all other factors. What will it mean to love cars over the next ten years?
A well shaped car is defined by function. A long hood accommodates an engine running the length of the car and not between the wheels. Aerodynamic surfaces, not too many please, keep the car pressed to the road. The shape of the car is further of a function of air inlets to cool all the moving parts. Once all that is done, you can think of the form, getting just the right balance of smooth curves and straight lines.
Future cars are likely to move toward aerolumps. Drag is always the enemy of cars, doubly so for anything seeking efficiency. But the form needed to accommodate moving parts (read: combutions engines and their support infrastructure) will go away. You’re left with just a bubble holding the passengers. Not inspiring.
The sound of future cars is the sound of air running over the car and tires meeting the road. You may hear the occassional whine of an electric motor, perhaps an artifical soundtrack inspired by old combustion engines. No more growls, burps, and high-rev screams.
When all this sorts out, some companies will have a more interesting product due to their use of technology. A lot of companies will have a more boring but practical product. We will surely say, “they don’t make them like they used to” because literally, of course, they won’t.
But what will we find to love about how cars are built and function? Will that fade as a historical note while we revel in the agency a personal car brings without some of the external costs of highways, parking lots, and petrofuels?