Friday, January 26, 2007

Electronics, Why they will be a burden in the long run to car owners.

It’s been awhile since the last posting. In fact, it’s already mid-end January 2007 and Mitsubishi’s getting ready to launch the new Evolution X. I was actually quite worried when I read that it was going to come with a 6 speed DSG-like gearbox and no manual shifter. However, upon reading up on the production ready versions, I’ve found out that there will be a 5speed manual shifter option and because of this I am relieved. The reason for my worry is that it seems that every new sports sedan/coupe etc has more and more electronics thrown into its guts than the previous generation of sports cars. The actual impact of these additions is that while these cars will corner like its on rails, blast off into the horizon like nothing you’ve ever seen before or change gears faster than a speeding bullet, these cars have too much dependency on electronics.

Electronics are good, according to all car manufacturers. They aid the driver in driving bla bla. Enabling extremely high cornering speeds in an otherwise family sedan based automobile. However what worries me the most is that all these gizmos are somewhat burdensome in the long run. Most cars with all these gadgets, gizmos and ting-tongs may only have a shelf life of 15 years max before their electronics give way and no spares can be found. Basic stuff like ECUs may be abundant, but stuff like the Active Yaw Control for the Evo IV from 1996 may be impossible to get hold of by 2010 and a relatively good car from 1996 isn’t that usable anymore (to an extent as you could get the later AYC controllers to fit). Of course such a scenario may not even be applicable as there are lots of chop shops out there. But it would be a hassle to find parts that get obsolete so fast. Owners of current Evo IX may be enjoying their cars now, but I would assume that 10 years down the line, after they have disposed of their EVO IX, the next owners would find huge bills trying to find and buy electronic parts for their newly purchased old Evo. I am of the opinion that all these new additions, while they do make cars go faster, stop better and are more comfortable, they are going to be harder to maintain than the classics of yore. Imagine sourcing an electric motor for your new 2011 Mercedes S-class rear air-cond blower.

“Hello, my rear air cond blower is not working”

“Which side”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, the left rear passenger blower has a different mounting bracket built into the motor, while the right side has a built in speed controller module that controls both left and right blower”

“I see”

“But you may need to buy something else as it may not be the blower, these model W510 S-classes have another electronic sensor that is located under the rear seats to tell the Air Cond ECU how heavy the passenger is and how much air needs to be blown. Also, it may not be that, but it could be the main override switch from the secondary systems ECU that controls the Air Cond system overall. That is also reported to give flaws after approximately 100,000km of mileage. But, that’s a no option fix that Mercedes is giving its customers.”

“I don’t see clearly anymore, what would be the damage?”

“It could be a Thousand Ringgit if it’s just the motor or 3 million ringgit if it’s the Air Cond ECU. It depends.”

I see that in the end, consumers will be forced to change their cars every 10years or so whether they like it or not due to tons of electronics been put into their cars. The curse of mass production. Where change is good no matter what the costs are to the consumers. This actually highlights the second main problem that consumers are faced with, too much gizmos and gadgets.

The first problem is the fact that cars are becoming larger. Look at the current Honda Civic, it’s so large that an Accord from 1990 looks small compared to it. Before 1995, Honda didn’t have a need to have a Honda City, look what’s happened now? In the year 2025, the Honda City will be Accord sized and the Accord will be slightly smaller than your average terrace house. The Mercedes S class will be slightly smaller than a small bungalow and would need a ladder for you to reach the door, occupy 2 lanes on a highway and because of the miracle of lightweight materials, electronics and engine development, make 125mpg. We are obviously screwed when it comes to a desire for space. Years ago, before men invented MPVs, we all went round in 4 door Mazda 323s, Volvo 244s and so forth. I think those days were simple. So simple that we won’t go back there again because cars those days have their own set of issues. We were screwed then as well as in the future.