Wednesday , September 19 2018
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Techno-Economic Leveling

Summary:
Cars, it’s rightly said, are becoming like cell phones – but in a way that’s different than the purely techno-gadget way most people mean when they say this. A techno-economic leveling is under way, the same as has happened with our phones.  The smartphone you can pick up at Walmart may not have quite as much memory or as high-res a camera as a top-of-the-line iPhone, but it still has one helluva camera and does pretty much everything the 0 iPhone does. It certainly makes a phone call just as quickly. Texts just as competently. You can download and use the same apps as the 0 smartphone. Check email. Watch videos. The screen/interface looks and works pretty much the same – or 0. The meaningful differences are

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Cars, it’s rightly said, are becoming like cell phones – but in a way that’s different than the purely techno-gadget way most people mean when they say this.

techno-economic leveling is under way, the same as has happened with our phones. 

The $60 smartphone you can pick up at Walmart may not have quite as much memory or as high-res a camera as a top-of-the-line iPhone, but it still has one helluva camera and does pretty much everything the $600 iPhone does. It certainly makes a phone call just as quickly. Texts just as competently. You can download and use the same apps as the $600 smartphone. Check email. Watch videos.

The screen/interface looks and works pretty much the same – $60 or $600. The meaningful differences are functionally few.

And so it is becoming – has become – with cars.

Mercedes just previewed its forthcoming (2019)  A Class – which is its entry-level class. But – other than it being smaller – and having a smaller price tag – it has nearly everything that comes in Mercedes’ top-of-the-line S-Class, which is a six-figure car.

To start.

But the A-Class, which costs a third that – will debut 2001: A Space Odyssey technologies such as the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), an AI system with predictive learning abilities. It will effectively read your thoughts, come to know your habits – make suggestions about such things as where to eat and whether you ought t hit the gym today (because it’s Wednesday and the car knows you usually work out on Wednesdays). 

This, in Benz’s entry-level model.

The A will also come with the same (or very similar) configurable flat screen array – a pair of 10.25-inch screens that sweep across the entire dashpad. This kind of thing used to be only available in the S Class and wasn’t even conceivable in that car – which is an exotic-level car – as recently as about five years ago. It has already filtered down to the mid-priced E-Class and – next year – will be standard in the most modestly priced Mercedes.

Also, driver-selectable ambient mood lighting – in 64 colors. A dual-clutch automated manual transmission. More things which used to be unique to the Big Fish. 

It goes without saying the A will also have power pretty much everything. 

As is the case with pretty much all cars now – including cars that cost a third of the A’s base price. This includes things like ambient mood lighting and automated manual transmissions. They are no longer wowsa-dazzle ’em features. They are ho-hum features, no longer anything particularly impressive – in terms of their being exclusive. 

And here we come to the apotheosis of the techno-economic leveling. So-called “entry level” cars do not exist anymore. Not if words have meaning; not if “entry level” is a synonym – as it was once – for spartan, minimally equipped, basic. 

Cheap – and not in terms of price.

Cheap – as in shoddy. Poorly put together. A piece of crap. These don’t exist – not new.

Consider the Toyota Corolla I reviewed recently (here). This is an $18k car and it comes standard with a touchscreen, too. Not quite as large – or as fancy – as the one in the A or the S Class, to be sure. But a touchscreen, nonetheless.

Eric Peters
Eric Peters is a freelance car/bike/political columnist. He escaped the corporate-owned media Big Boys years ago. Without the censorship of the corporate tools

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