Observing young kids today, I can say that “demotorization” — the term used to describe the new generation’s loss of interest in automobiles — might be real. When I was small, I was hooked on die-cast toy cars (my favorite brand was Matchbox) and boys my age hung car posters on their bedroom walls. That was the dream, to one day save enough money to purchase a nice little runabout.
I don’t sense the same kind of automotive fondness among the youth these days. I know a nine-year-old lad who can spend hours watching videos and playing games on his iPad, but won’t even open the boxes of the toy cars I give him. It’s like motor vehicles are boring appliances to him — just necessary tools to get him to school and back home. Virtual reality has taken hold of his fancy, and I don’t see it letting go until he grows into adulthood.
Millennials today will scrimp on their daily meals just to be able to afford an iPhone X, but won’t feel anything over an irresistible financing offer for a stylish hatchback. As far as they’re concerned, there’s always Grab. Which allows them to get around without the stress of driving through horrendous traffic and without the oppressive costs that come with it (fuel, parking, maintenance). The combination of consumer electronics and the nightmare that car ownership has become is practically killing the appeal of driving among our children.
So now the question is: How do you design cars for (and market them to) a young, tech-savvy demographic that isn’t passionate about horsepower and torque? I got the answer last week at the Philippine introduction of the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a car whose cockpit features a kilometric touch screen display that will make your smart phone look like a joke.
Obviously, I vividly remember a time when car launches were dominated by lengthy product presentations that focused on the exterior design and the source of propulsion. At the A-Class event, the person tasked with said presentation did his best Steve Jobs (or Tim Cook) impression by doing a lively (scripted, yes, but lively) demonstration of the car’s so-called MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system. He boasted that this system’s artificial intelligence could learn and memorize the personal preferences of the driver and the passengers.
Just say “Hey Mercedes” and then recite a simple command (“read my latest e-mail” or “play my favorite driving music” or “show me the fastest route to CATS Greenhills”), and your wish is granted. It’s like taking Siri along for the ride.
If you’re playful, you may even choose from 64 available colors to set up the cabin mood while you’re cruising with your anorexic date. It’s all very fancy and futuristic.
I don’t recall hearing the speaker talk about the suspension system or the dual-clutch transmission — both essential ingredients in giving guests an idea of the car’s performance potential. I guess none of those matter anymore. In this age of virtual reality and digital everything, the main selling point is how the vehicle can connect to its users and the infrastructure around it. How it hugs the bend or sprints from rest takes a backseat to wireless connectivity.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? Depends on whom you ask. Me, I just want to be entertained in traffic.