Please make a dumb car

Please make a dumb car. By Devin Coldewey.

Today’s cars are dumb where they should be smart, and smart where they should be dumb. Enough already. Make a car that’s pretty much all dumb and watch it sell — because what automakers are giving people is so bad, they’ll pay more to have less of it.

Cars now are like budget smartphones with wheels: loaded with bloatware, unintuitive and slow to operate. Carmakers have always struggled with user interfaces, but until recently the biggest problem we had was “too many knobs.” How I long for those days!

The proliferation of touchscreens and LCDs has made every car feel like a karaoke booth. Animations show reclaimed energy from braking, the speedometer changes color as you approach the limit, the fan speed and direction is under three menus.

And besides being non-functional, these interfaces are even ugly! The type, the layouts, and animations scream “designed by committee and approved by someone who doesn’t have to use it.”

Not to mention the privacy and security concerns. I was dubious the first time I saw a GPS in a car, my mom’s old RX300, about 20 years ago. “Yeah… that’s how they get you,” I thought. And now, Teslas with missed payments drive themselves to be impounded. Welcome to the future — your car is a narc now!

The final indignity is that these features are being sold as upscale, not downmarket, options. Screens are so cheap that you can buy a few million and use them everywhere, for everything, and tell buyers “enjoy the next generation of mobility!” But in reality it’s a cost-saving measure that cuts down on part numbers and lets your dashboard team kick the can down the road as often as they want. You know this for sure because high-end models are going back to knobs and dials for that “premium feel.” …

All I want is a car that isn’t as overbearing as all the rest of the devices I already own, sending me notifications, dinging, reporting errors, asking permissions, needing updates — my god!

Leaving aside the whole spurious “back in my day” argument, there simply isn’t much point to these features now, certainly not enough to justify their prominence or poor quality. Let’s see what it’s like to make a car that focuses on letting the driver drive, and accommodating rather than trying to replace the supercomputers we all carry around in our pockets.

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Simplicity is the work of genius. Any committee can design complex and inefficient.