Never Stop Driving #81: The Rolling Device

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which kicked off this week, is one of the most important expositions for the automotive industry—even though it’s not actually an auto show. CES started gaining prominence on the automotive calendar about 15 years ago. At the time, as a tech editor at Car and Driver, I routinely encountered new and clumsy infotainment systems from nearly every carmaker. Everyone in the industry knew that the first carmaker that could design an infotainment interface that truly was intuitive and easy to use would have a winner as big as the 1965 Ford Mustang.

Which is why carmakers started making the trek to Vegas in early January, showing off their cars and cabin gadgets and, eventually, boasting about autonomous capabilities to the tech-obsessed CES audience. The press coverage was great, but, more important, the car companies needed to convince talented tech workers that they’re just as hip a place to work as Google or Amazon. Ford made headlines back in 2018 by purchasing the long-abandoned Detroit train station and embarking on a new tech palace, the better to lure the best and the brightest.

LG Alpha-Able Concept 2024 CES
Tayfun Coskun/AnadoluGetty Images

Every company wants to be a tech company not only because that’s today’s reality but also because tech is where the money is. Of the top five most valuable companies, four—Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), and Amazon—are computer-based. Those early infotainment efforts gave car companies a chance to evolve, but they didn’t have the talent to master such systems and technology like voice recognition simply wasn’t ready. Meanwhile, smartphones paved the way as did “terminal mode,” the industry’s term for when the car’s display screen is simply an extension of the phone. Hello, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Today, however, car companies have dramatically improved their software capabilities. Last May, GM hired former Apple executive Mike Abbott to lead software development. Three months later, Ford also hired an Apple exec. After GM announced it would ditch CarPlay, Ford CEO Jim Farley said that the battle for the in-dash screen was already over and CarPlay and Android Auto already won. I happen to agree with Farley.

As longtime auto executive Bob Lutz is fond of saying, the design chief is the most important position at any car company. Now, design chiefs also have to deliver the in-car experience, including all software applications, so everything I’ve described here about GM and Ford is also playing out throughout the industry.

Therefore, CES matters to us here at Hagerty Media, because it matters to anyone who cares about the global automotive industry. This year, the news from the Las Vegas Convention Center has been fairly light, but both VW and Mercedes announced AI-assisted voice systems that promise to vastly improve voice commands—long a major weakness across brands—because you can talk normally and the systems will figure out what you want. Or so they say. Meanwhile, BMW promises that future passengers will play video games in their cars. Oh, boy.

It’s not all software at CES. Honda’s latest concept car, which points toward an alluring new design direction for the Japanese automaker, debuted there this week. Futuristic concept cars were once the main draw of auto shows but are rarely created these days—hooray for Honda.

honda saloon CES 2024 concept ev Honda 0 Series

Over here at Hagerty, we’re still mining the past to connect with today and tomorrow. Historic preservation has been a hot topic around these parts. Last year, we devoted an entire issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, which I’d be grateful for you to join, to imperfect cars. We called it the Patina Issue and included an essay about how the bumps and bruises on a car are tangible evidence of its history and the lives of the people who’ve owned it.

Where is the line between original and restored? Eric Weiner continued that never-ending discussion this week with his philosophical exploration of a $1.9 million wrecked Ferrari. On this week’s podcast (Apple, Spotify, and YouTube) Weiner and I discuss the role of preservation and I interview McKeel Hagerty. Please give it a listen.

In other Hagerty Media check out:

Have a great weekend!


P.S.: Your feedback is very welcome. Comment below!

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    As car shows die the CES show grows.

    It is true that Tech and electronics are the sweet spot for investors so everything wants to be seen as a tech company. Even if you make simple parts that are used on tech products you claim to be a tech company.

    The real problem is they develop this new tech and then try to figure out what people will want and what they will really use.

    Some of this is a bit ahead of its time and some of it will never really last. They are just throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.

    AI is the buzz word today and much is happening there. But it is far from perfect as you can see with a number of we stories that are now products of AI with odd verbage or the same terms like Devastating and Gruesome over and over.

    But even these flaws will vanish.

    Having worked with AI already in programming it is scary at the rate of increase in development. But there will be good and bad with this and growing pains. We as a society need to grow this with care.

    Which is why cars today suck. 1,000 horsepower, and the driver is staring at a screen, like a giant video game.

    What was born ages ago as the Consumer Electronics Show is no longer called that because ordinary consumers no longer have access. For some time it’s been strictly a trade show labeled CES

    Very interesting article, Larry ! Even though the future will be electric, this seems to be decades away as of now. I concur with you that EV is ‘charging forward’ now but there are many challenges to get everything ,on line,. Perhaps in the next decade, progress will be made faster that it is right now. Fossil fuels power electricity and will for the near future and here-in lies the opportunity to change that. Best of luck !!

    My Daily Driver is a 20 year old Audi TT Mk1 that is thankfully devoid of screens or “tech”. Count me out on ever buying a video game car; when I travel and have had to rent them I find them soulless, unintuitive and annoyingly distracting. Keep flat panel displays in homes or offices where they belong, not in a car that is being driven at speed! I find it amazing that the NTSA has not banned them.

    Please stop being part of the problem. Pushing tech and electrics constantly.
    You make it obvious your just patronizing this “Evolving direction” of vehicles. For a pay check.
    To the point of sounding like a Liberal politician ramming “Progressive Policy” BS down our throats.
    I (we) don’t want, or really need a “conveyance” for transportation. Certainly not to enjoy.

    All the new tech and mechanical wonder being offered today are amazing! But, whos going to pay for all the “Stuff”? And for a touch of reality, who is going to pay to fix it? My neighbor took is techno wonder into the dealer as his favorite XM station failed to wake up after a nights sleep. Then some other ghostly issues began. They said for a mere $16,000. they would give his tech back to the vehicle and bring his failing car back to life. What’s excites me, will be the first manufacturer that offers up a real warranty commensurate with the cost of repairing all the tech and mechanical wonders their engineers and marketeers dreamed up for the new F16 they saddled me with. Perhaps someone could justify that $9000. cost to replace the CVT trans in my realtors 4 year old car with $80K miles on it. Particularly since it’s worth only $11,000! Frankly, I am not interested in all this gadgetry that adds to distracted driving, and a real, REALLY don’t want to pay for it, or fix it!

    I think GM is making a huge mistake by dropping apple Car Play and Android Auto. Now that I have had it, I won’t buy a car without it. My wife and I both currently drive Chevrolets. I wonder what my next car will be.

    Good Lord – that dash display in the title photo absolutely terrifies me. If I wanted to be consulting my computer apps and various info screens, I would be doing just that. When I’m trying to drive, 98% of that stuff is not only not needed, but totally distracting.

    Sorry Larry but I unapologetically disagree. I hate “screens” and I will never own a car with a screen. I have a cell phone which I resent every single day. I’ll be damned if I drive a “device.” Knobs, switches and dials are the most intuitive and require the least amount of distraction. I wish you were not always pandering to the “hipsters.” It insults your core readers and Hagerty policy owners. Same goes with EVs. What a boondoggle disaster both functionally and environmentally. Nothing is “more green” then my continued use and meticulous care of my 20 year old vehicles which have already been made regardless and avoiding the scrap yard is also environmentally sound.

    Lastly, do you care about privacy? I, for one will not be tracked, traced and databased by my car manufacturer. A recent Mozilla article discusses at length this very affront to privacy:

    Remember when your car was a private, intimate sanctuary where DRIVERS could be “alone with the road?” Not anymore and “singing their praises” is very counterproductive to the car culture. These utilitarian “devices” have no culture and no character as the are designed with the opposite intentions by people who no longer care (if they ever did in the first place) about driving as an experience and their vehicle as an expression of the owner’s personality.

    Save the accolades for the “trendies.” It offends so many of your core readers.

    Larry, I just wanted to make comment about BMWs goal to allow people to play video games in their car. Whether you realized it or not, people are coming across the yellow line all the time because they’re looking at their monitor in the middle of their car and not paying attention to driving.

    We don’t need more distraction. It’s worse than just a cell phone.

    If there’s some way you can stem the tide of this anticipated ” need ” for a driver to be playing instead of driving, please do.

    MJ Nichols took (some of) the words right out of my mouth: If you want to be as green as possible right now; ditch that new EV – the one that would single-handedly destroy the planet if built at scale today – and pick-up a 10 year-old used car. Its tailpipe emissions will be almost non-existent and it doesn’t require the earth to be raped of its precious metals in order to be built.

    I don’t want any of this nonsense in my cars. None of it. I barely even have the radio on unless I have a CD in so I don’t have to listen to nonstop commercials and the same, generic music by committee garbage that is played repeatedly on every station. The only interfaces I want between me and my vehicles is a steering wheel, 3 pedals and a shifter. Everything else is unnecessary. Plain and simple.

    I just read the Ferrari piece on Original vs Restored.

    I have an original 1970 Corvette, completely original. It’s interesting at car shows when folks ask questions about the vehicle and during the conversation discover the difference between my original 454 as compared to a restored 1970 Corvette that been restored with updated components. My frustration is there is no credit from the show judges that they are judging an unrestored original Corvette, because they don’t know anything about what an original 1970 Corvette looks like. This is an expected result.

    Perhaps one of your readers can offer some suggestions on how to manage this conundrum.

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your articles!

    Two comments:
    1. I am not sure how you can write this column and NOT mention Tesla. “BMW promises that future passengers will play video games in their cars.” Tesla launched their in-car gaming platform in 2019 (5 years ago). Tesla launched over-the-air updates in 2014 (10 years ago) which is something many other automotive companies promise to deliver at some point in the future.

    2. Everytime Hagerty has the slightest mention of EV’s the comment section is filled with a bunch of comments from old people who can not accept the fact that technology changes and it cannot be stopped. I love classic cars and motorcycles and will continue to purchase them. However, never again will I buy a new car that is not 100% electric. Both have their place in my garage.

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