I sold my car last month. It was my first; something I bought with the starting bonus of my first job out of school, a beautiful coupe that I’ve kept for almost nine years. Being a geek, I made sure to spend the extra money for the “technology package,” which translated to $2,000 for a touch screen navigation unit integrated with audio and settings and the rest of the car’s systems.
In those subsequent years, the car kept up its performance on the road, but those electronic systems became obsolete pretty quickly. Cars are designed and priced to last for a decade, in contrast with the 2-3 years that our premium devices last. In-car navigation that was state-of-the-art in 2004 became commonplace with portable GPS systems by 2006 and obsolete with smartphones and maps with real-time data by 2009.
So when we got my car’s replacement that afternoon (a Prius), I got mildly interested in its heads-up displays and bluetooth syncing and app integration, but ultimately knew that they’ll be legacy and outdated by the third oil change. In an ideal world, cars would provide the modularity of PCs and allow its components to be upgraded, but manufacturers seem to really love those overpriced packages. I personally think they’d make just as much if not more by selling smaller but equally overpriced upgrades over time.
The car industry has proven resilient to change for a long time. Outside of one-offs like Tesla and Automatic, cars take a long time to evolve their features, and when they do drive change, it sends shockwaves to associated industries who’ve come to expect and rely on cars’ slow pace of innovation. With the advent of self-driving cars lead by tech-oriented companies, I wonder a faster pace of iteration will be accepted by car buyers and the public.