This is the weekly series where you, the Autosavant commentariat, are invited to take the reins of the auto industry, for at least as long as it takes you to write a comment. It’s all the responsibility, with none of the compensation!
Being a child of the 1980s, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I have a bizarre fascination with the W126-body Sonderklasse, or as we know it today, the S-class. It was–and still is–my ideal of luxury, as dowdy and pragmatic a luxury car as has ever been imagined.
At dealerships and auto shows, the “bank vault” demo (in which the salesperson would slam one of the doors shut, making a seismic thud that shook the floor) impressed me to no end as a child. The W126 was built with solidity to conduct Important Business, the way office furniture used to be built.
Thirty years later, the new-school “dreadnought” class of luxury cars is currently caught in an inexorable march toward more and more technological wizardry, in an effort to out-impress each other’s intended customers. Right now we live in the age of die neue S-Klasse, known internally as the W222; loaded with sensors and adaptive suspension and steering components, the car can very nearly drive itself.
Not that the old W126 could be ever have been described as Luddite in nature: it was the first car to be made available with airbags (1981), the first to offer seatbelt pre-tensioners (1981), the first to offer traction control (1989), and the first to offer a four-speed automatic transmission with a “topographical sensor” that detected the grade at which the car was travelling, to keep the cruise control smooth, and prevent the car from riding backwards when moving uphill from a dead stop.
But to me, those individual features seemed to age fairly gracefully; airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners take a very long time to achieve true obsolescence on their own. Will the high-res screens that currently replace the dashboard look as dated in ten years as navigation screens from 2005 do today? Will the current suite of automated driving tech be able to “play well with others” in thirty or forty years’ time?
From a consumer perspective, it almost feels a bit like the kind of “planned obsolescence” ploy that consumer cellphone manufacturers seem to have cooked up. Anybody still using a cellphone from more than five years ago? Anybody?
So, what would happen if we designed a car whose premier feature was longevity? One whose electronic content was kept to an absolute minimum, in favor of feature content that is designed to last fifty years or more? One whose interior materials were designed not to look permanently “new,” but to reach their peak gracefully and build a pleasant patina over time?
If the object of the game is moving more cars off the lots, does that seem like a self-defeating prophecy? How would you price a car like that to offset the eventual dip in sales?
We know already that there’s currently a mass market for analog sports cars: the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ twins and Mazda Miata come to mind right away. How much of a stretch is it to imagine a car as focused on endurance as those cars are on driving pleasure?
Have your say below in the Comments.