Ok, so let me start by saying that comparatively, American car companies have really upped the ante and in some cases have put on a serious competition with (and in a few Fords bested) foreign auto manufacturers, but it seems to me that they are merely content to put up a fight, not annihilate the competition.
What spawned this train of thought is the story of my aunt, who made two recent purchases...one very expensive and significant, the other cheap and seemingly innocuous.
I know I'm supposed to be talking cars here and my next thought is a bit of a tangent, but it works into my point. My aunt started her fall shopping spree by purchasing a new (no contract) phone from T-Mobile, the Nokia Nuron. It's a lightweight phone with some sort of touch capacitive display, a robust GPS system, and a modest music platform. It also has a very robust application library (not the likes of the iPhone or Android, but still good) and a snappy user interface for the price.
Immediately following the purchase of the phone, she got the itch for a new-ish car.
Being that every new vehicle she has ever purchased has been a Jeep Cherokee Laredo (Grand or otherwise), she immediately set her aim at the newer Grand Cherokees that Chrysler has to offer. This time though, she realized that with all the cool trinkets in the new cars, she wanted the Limited, so we set off on a tiring search for the Jeep of her dreams.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (god-awful long name) with all the nice options retails at a cool 30-35k in the 2009-2010 range, so we had to breathe a little every time a sticker price was offered. The electronics included in that price range are a rear seat LCD and a stereo with SATNAV, Hard Drive storage, Bluetooth, and in some cases, FLO TV.
We ended up finding this 2010 Limited with a HEMI, full options package.
So here's why she's now unimpressed with her more expensive purchase and why I have a hatred for all that is auto:
- The entertainment center/stereo in this jeep is akin to a first gen iPod. The capacitive display is cheap and unappealing, especially considering the awfully ugly interface it is equipped with (I've seen Wal-Mart carry stereos with more appealing interfaces).
- The rear seat display has such an awful picture, cartoons appeared to have been drawn in Crayola.
- The HDD storage is a mere 40 Gigabytes, and takes a gruelinghalf day to load to capacity (not to mention countless DVDs wasted).
- The inputs for the rear seat display are an insulting analog input (RCA).
- The CPU used for all these electronics is so underpowered, you need to get everything loaded and on a playlist before you it the gas, if only to avoid having to do it on the road.
- No voice control.
- No concierge service availability (onstar-like).
- Not even a USB charger.
- Remote start is cool-ish...but where's the two-way intelligent remote???
- Back seat is awful for adults...flooring is literally on the same level as your behind.
- No leg room.
- too. damn. dark.
Now, you might be wondering...why did I bring up the phone earlier?? Isn't it obvious?? For a clean $170, Nokia managed to pack every single trinket that Chrysler did into this jeep, but not as much storage. This little tiny device manages to best the jeep in it's beautiful interface, GPS clarity and capabilities, upgrade-ability, and a great deal more things while also being a two-way communications device. Think about that...the only thing the Jeep manages to win on is the damned storage, and it's not even solid state!!
Not too long ago, I had to replace the stereo on my G6. I opted to go OEM because I didn't want to be relegated to chimes to understand what is going on with my car, rather, I stuck with the CAN compatible receiver. When I pulled out my defective stereo to replace it, I decided a tear down was in order. What I found is that the stereo that GM wanted roughly $700 for was about as technologically advanced as a late 90's Walkman. I had been had...I made a huge investment in a cheap piece of junk that is bested by 10+ year old technology. I have taken the time to examine photos of the same model stereo that my aunt has in her Jeep, and let's just say that the average MP3 player in 2003 would have been given a run for it's money.
This is the problem with Detroit. Plain and simple. The time of the auto enthusiast has long gone, because people find more use and innovation in the devices that they hold in the palm of their hands. The sheer level of overpriced (WAYYY OVERPRICED) and antiquated technologies in every vehicle serves as an embarrassment to innovation.
So here's what I think Detroit needs to do.
- Stop putting on like your vehicle has anything to do with modern technology until you actually use modern technology in it.Some of us do look beyond the cheap plastic veneer.
- Stop beefing up the price tag of said vehicles with the electronics. If I can pay $170 for a new cell phone yet you charge in excess of $2000 for even a modestly equipped receiver, there's something deeply wrong with that (I'm talking to you, Ford!). If you're going to make a good entertainment system, don't screw it up by screwing me!
- Get with the times. Touch displays, voice command, and GPS should be STANDARD features.
- Wire the whole damned car for these things. I don't want to have to search the ends of the Earth to find a wire that you didn't equip, in order to install an OEM upgrade package. I will GLEEFULLY pay the extra $20 in real materials cost in all future purchases in order to have this. Upgrades SHOULD be plug and play.
- STOP making people pay for software upgrades/reprogramming. You may think we're fooled into believing that it really took the tech an hour to install the new stereo firmware on the computer, but remember, there's a glass window to the service bay and 5 minutes does not an hour make.
- Never, ever, ever, ever, ever make me look at a sluggish, ugly interface again. My Zune HD cost $200, has a gorgeous display, is snappy and responsive, and has beautiful 3D effects. Don't even think for a moment that I am stupid enough to consider your handiwork to be worth the cash I paid for it.
I know there's going to be at least a few haters who want to think that what I'm saying has no merit, but as a lifelong auto aficionado and techie, I just had to lay out why there are few, if any vehicles out there that really impress me. I would say, without a single ounce of doubt in my mind, that American consumers would be a lot more excited about the prospect of getting a new vehicle if they could rely on that vehicle to serve their electronic needs as well as their phone does.
If my 50 year old aunt can be more impressed with a cheap phone than she is with the $5000-$7000 upgrades in her vehicle, there is something very wrong about it all.