How much car tech is too much, and how much is it really worth to you?

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There is this basic skill learned in the driver: don’t just drive in the middle of your lane. Passing pedestrians or a bicycle? Hug the middle stripe. Many oncoming traffic? Prefer the right side of the track. Adjust your driveline to the conditions.

But lane keeping technology never cost the driver. It only knows the middle. So when my car engages me in a hand-to-hand fight while trying to drive away from a tractor trailer, lane tracking is disconnected.

Car technology, love it or hate it, we’re drowning in it. And it just keeps coming. Layers of assistance have been created mainly to stop unwary drivers distracted by their smartphones. We build technology to solve a problem caused by … technology.

Nevertheless, the number of road deaths continues to rise. So maybe we are also building technology solutions instead of fixing the drivers. When society tackled the problem of drink-driving, we trained people and strengthened enforcement. We don’t have air test locks built into everyone’s car.

Some technology even creates a false sense of security. Tesla brothers take their hands off the wheel, believing they own a magical car, a delusion to which Tesla may have contributed. With this in mind, NHTSA is investigating 23 Tesla crashes. And research by the AAA has shown that the use of adaptive cruising and keeping lanes can actually distract drivers more.

Elon Musk recently tweeted that the Tesla Model S or X will shift itself by ‘guessing’ the driver’s intentions. You can cancel it by touching the infotainment screen. Operating a primary vehicle control via Magic 8-Ball or infotainment seems unwise. And unnecessary.

Of course, many of these assists are really lifesavers. You can’t beat the good intentions. You just can’t take your eyes off them, not for a second.

The technical torrent goes much further than security systems. We have gotten more comfort, such as parking sensors and heated steering wheels. I like that one. We’ve also gotten unnecessary tricks like automatic parking. Sorry, that’s stupid. There’s a reason parallel parking is used in driving tests – you should be able to do it. And JD Power, in its Tech Experience Survey, burns the dumbest technology of all, saying drivers are “giving the finger to gesture control.”

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All this is of course a matter of personal taste. We can turn off or ignore automotive technologies that we don’t prefer.

But what we are increasingly unable to do is avoid paying for it.

The technology is there whether we want to or use it or not. I involuntarily paid good money for that auto-park feature that I’m ignoring (and, frankly, a little bit scared). Americans tend to buy more vehicles than they need, so automakers compete for new toys to delight and entice us, such as the Mercedes-Benz EQS Hyperscreen. And in fairness to buyers, that one feature you want is often packed with three you don’t want, but reluctantly decide.

Technology is a big reason why the average cost of a new vehicle in the US exceeded $ 40,000 in late 2020. That’s just the average. Since cars are now rolling computers, 40% of the cost is in semiconductor electronics – no wonder there is a shortage of chips worldwide. Some technology is starting to seem even more frivolous in the face of that shortage. Remember, 40% of $ 40,000 means that the average cost of a new car, SUV, or truck, if stripped of computer-aided technology, would be just $ 24,000. Can’t, but wouldn’t that be nice?

Meanwhile, the median household income in the U.S. was less than $ 69,000 in 2019, so the average new car can cost a family about an entire year in net pay.

Elon Musk got us thinking about unnecessary technology when he recently tweeted that Tesla is building into the Model S and X the ability to turn itself on and off, forward or backward, by ‘guessing’ the driver’s intentions. If the car is wrong, you can override it and shift gears yourself by touching the infotainment screen. Operating a primary vehicle control via Magic 8-Ball or infotainment seems unwise. And unnecessary. Even if it works, who asked for it? Most importantly, who wants to pay for it? (Chances are it’s a cost-cutting measure for Tesla to drop the Mercedes-licensed shifter stem, but will the savings be passed on to buyers?)

Just because we can do something technological doesn’t mean we should. Some of us just want to drive. We are even willing to operate a shift lever for this.

New toggle in the s / x refresh

– Tesla Owners of Silicon Valley (@teslaownersSV) March 24, 2021

It could all get worse: cars that are more capable, more complex, but inherently more expensive.

Car manufacturers show an unhealthy interest in subscriptions. The specter of tech subscriptions was raised years ago by McKinsey consultants, who recommended automakers to become “integrated mobility service providers” selling upgrades and subscriptions like software companies do.

A scary-sounding idea is suggested by Volkswagen. Code-named Project Trinity, the car you buy wouldn’t come in variants: the hardware for all of the features on offer would be built into each car, but would remain dormant until you activate the software – subscribe to – the software running on it.

That’s right, in this “software dream car” you would buy hardware and later pay again to make it really work. And you could decide never to use some systems, meaning their circuits will run with you for the life of the car and never do anything. Seems wasteful.

VW says Project Trinity will “generate additional revenue in the use phase”.

You have to consider that if an Apple car ever comes, it will. And just today, Reuters ran an article about General Motors’ plans to build “software-defined vehicles.” GM, Mercedes and others are planning electronic vehicle platforms capable of performance of all kinds, including over-the-air updates and self-driving. These platforms will also facilitate the revenue stream of these subscriptions.

In this “software dream car” you would buy hardware and pay again later to make it really work. And you could decide never to use some systems, meaning their circuits will run with you for the life of the car and never do anything. Seems wasteful.

Likewise, Tesla buyers have paid $ 10,000 to install “Full Self Driving” hardware at the factory. They have been told it will one day be run by software currently in the hands of some true beta testers – who report that it is not ready yet. Even when delivered, it will be a SAE Level 2 driver assistance system, Tesla admits, not self-driving as billed. A few owners are starting to get angry about that.

You’ve probably already been asked to pay for a call service extension or navigation upgrade. Jake Groves, an editor at CAR magazine in the UK, recently reported pressing a “high beam assist” button in a BMW 530e during a night ride. The car responded by asking it to pay £ 179 ($ 246) to activate it. That’s a safety feature he wanted to use there, you know, in the dark.

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Granted, the Project Trinity type abilities can be useful. Suppose it looks like it’s about to snow, so for today let’s activate four-wheel drive over the air. And it is said that these embedded technologies will help resell when the second owner wants features you don’t have. But why pay outside the gate for hardware that the next person might want? That is his problem.

But take heart. Some subscription plans have fallen flat. Remember when BMW charged owners $ 80 a year to use Apple CarPlay, which was free elsewhere? BMW admitted when customers complained.

Do you want to pay for hardware you don’t need? Or to be cluttered with subscription fees for features you do want? Do you want car costs to continue to rise like this?

With auto makers rewiring entire vehicle platforms, the trend towards subscriptions may be unstoppable. But a good company listens to its customers. So, vote with your wallet: if you shop in the car, ask if you will get “extra income” along the way. Can you also choose the features you want without features you don’t want? Thanks to the degree of customization, would you be able to order a car the way you want it, instead of buying the lot? If a vehicle seems on you in these respects, shop for something else. And if your car already charges fees for updates that don’t seem attractive, decline; shows the OEM that this approach is not popular. Finally, if you’re passionate about features you love in your car – and think other features are botched ideas – let the automaker know. Start at the dealer. Dealers have a loud voice with the OEMs. Also ask for a district manager or other contact person for car manufacturers.

Tell them you don’t buy what you don’t want. No one trying to sell anything likes to hear about it.

Is there a tech you paid for annoyed? Let us know in the comments below.