The Worst Automotive Trends of Right Now
The things I'm tired of—or worried about—in this moment.
Last year we noted, and were discouraged by, the fact that grilles had been getting bigger to the point of excess and called for a reversion to the mean. Instead, some manufacturers have pushed farther than we ever expected anyone to go. Twin packing crate-sized substitutions for the classic BMW kidney shapes seen on the X7 SUV and Concept 4 coupe are showing up in production, and that's a shame.
Oh, at some point a few years from now they'll decide aerodynamics and electrification will best be served by smaller drag-producing openings in the skin, but we will have to go through a lot more silliness before the trend reverses. Consider Genesis. The Korean builder is profitably making big sedans equal or superior in all but historical heritage to German luxury models for thousands of dollars less. But look at the 2020 G90 sedan; its grille is quite elegant as a shape, but it's about two times too big.
Many of us are seriously concerned by the supposed looming onset of self-driving cars, and not entirely because we dread losing the kinesthetic pleasure of driving a good car on a fine road. There could be, as there have been with most new technologies, misapplications. You really don't have to be paranoid to worry about the potential effects of something new. When airbags were new, they appeared in several murder mysteries, the kind of "airplane books" of no literary importance consumed by many of us who flew across the Atlantic many times each year. In at least three of those read since Automobile began, the protagonist had to struggle to extract a knife from his pocket so he could puncture the airbag that held him captive after a crash. The authors of those books apparently didn't know the bags self-deflate after exploding in the face of people they saved. So far, we haven't seen any instances of criminal "kidnapping by car," but it's likely to come. It will certainly be as easy for Bad Guy Hackers to take over "invulnerable" autonomous cars as it has been for them to steal Bitcoins or alter election results.
Most car enthusiasts love power and speed and want more of both. But the percentage of them who are really capable of handling either is small. It is hard for someone who is stressed and tired after a long, hard day to remember not to press too hard on the go pedal when there are more than 500 ponies underfoot. After you've seen hundreds of great cars reduced to trash in photos across the internet, you really don't want to look anymore. Maybe designers and engineers should develop a little video or skill test to check your state of fatigue before allowing you more than 200 ponies to get you home when you're tired.
The problem with constantly adding neat little tricks to cars—like incorporating cruise control in cheap little cars like Ford Fiestas (they still exist outside of the U.S., where Ford only does trucks and Mustang derivatives)—is that all the incremental improvements in standard equipment add weight, and above all, cost. And not just initial cost, but the cost of maintenance and repairs if they go wrong. And once you're hooked on the value of electric windows that put themselves up and down at the flick of a switch or digital screens that give you immediate and aggregate fuel-consumption figures or doors that lock automatically as soon as the car starts to move, you become accustomed to the convenience and don't want to do without. Some additional features are trivially cheap and easy to incorporate and add weight in fractions of ounces, not multiple pounds, but once drivers are addicted, they won't want to let anything that breaks stay broken. And that means high service costs.