I love cars. I’ve loved cars since the time I could jam as many Hot Wheels into my corduroy OshKosh B’Gosh overalls as the pockets would hold. But I believe the age of the car is coming to an end. With global warming, high energy costs, time per year spent sitting in traffic and the growing movement to think and act locally, car ownership has become more tedious than fun. The U.S. is woefully behind the curve when it comes to decent public transport and this is a serious impediment to those who would love to ditch their cars altogether.
So, as a lover of cars, I love to look at prototypes and concept cars to see if I can wrap my head around what the automotive industry is thinking about when it comes to human transport solutions. Judging from the new Toyota concept car, the Fun Vii, the answer seems to be “distract the customer from how dreadful the car ownership experience is with flashing lights and the ability to use your car as a smart phone.”
Let’s start with the fact that it looks like a light cycle from the original Tron movie. That came out in 1982. Now, I’m the last one to speak out on the virtues of not fetishizing the ’80s, but I’m not a car designer– much less a car designer tasked with envisioning a concept car still 10 years on the horizon. Just speaking strictly in terms of design of the car, is this really the best you’ve got, Toyota? If so, I maintain my belief the auto industry as we know it is doomed.
But this doesn’t even take into account the other ridiculous and useless features of the Fun Vii. First, everyone obsesses to some degree about how their ride looks. Aesthetics are a major consideration for any car purchase. But once you’ve made your decision, you have to stand by it. Imagine if you could change the way your car looks every day. Would anybody get anything done? The novelty of this feature would wear thin quickly and you would eventually leave it on one default setting.
Second, we have smart phones that already do much of what this car would supposedly do 10 years. If I had any friends, I could message or talk to them without my car. What does the guy in the commercial do when his car is parked in the garage and needs to tell his friends where he is?
Last, the concert idea thing where the cars all become part of the event? Come on. That’s just lame. Everyone knows the worst thing about going to large scale events like that is trying to get out of the parking lot afterward. It will be much worse when someone’s car battery dies because it was doing the 21st century equivalent of a Blue Öyster Cult light show.
When it comes down to it, no matter how you dress them up, cars are utilitarian. We have them because we have to. We have them because we made the mistake of building our infrastructure around them. But they have outlived their usefulness. For the average person who can’t afford a Lamborghini, there is little pleasure in the day-to-day operation of their motor vehicle. I wish that instead of trying to figure out what kinds of cars they think people will want in 10 years, the automotive companies and municipalities would collaborate on what sort of transportation solutions we need. Yeah, like that’ll happen.