Technology is making cars more capable. With major transitions afoot with electric powertrains, automation, connectivity and mobility, technology will redefine our relationship with the automobile. Change and the prospect of change are forcing auto manufacturers to react boldly. Many established automotive truisms will no longer be true. Here are five we can cast aside in 2019.
1. A True BMW Being a Rear-Wheel Drive Manual
Picture the platonic ideal of a BMW. It’s a powerful, sporty sedan tuned for driving. It has a manual gearbox. It’s rear-wheel drive with pinpoint steering. It’s “the ultimate driving machine.” Worry about winter when you come to it. Even if you brush aside the “sport activity vehicles,” that’s no longer BMW’s identity.
Consider some BMW icons. The redesigned 3-Series for 2019 has been optimized for performance. It will have an option for a 10.25-inch touchscreen. It won’t have a manual transmission. The latest version of the M5 sedan continues to be an absolute missile. But, it too ditched the manual transmission and converted to all-wheel drive. The 2020 Alpina B7, the world’s fastest sedan, will also be AWD and automatic. BMW has even been dabbling with front-wheel-drive.
Each move makes sense. These BMWs will perform better. They will be easier to drive. They will be what most luxury buyers want. But, ultimate driving and ultimate performance are not the same thing.
2. Crossover SUVs Being Slow and Boring
Crossover SUVs have a poor reputation among car enthusiasts, not entirely undeserved. They have been slow. They have handled worse than a lower-slung car would. Their styling has left something to be desired. In sum, crossovers were boring. That won’t be the case moving forward. As crossovers have become the profit source for luxury automakers, more effort has gone into them. They are getting better styling, sportier handling, and, judging from recent releases, a ton of power.
BMW is bringing out full M car versions of the X3 and X4 for the 2020 model year. Competition variants of the X3 M and X4 M will have more than 500hp. Land Rover has a pricey new edition of the Range Rover Velar with a 542hp supercharged V8 that will reach 60mph in 4.3 seconds. Audi reportedly has an RS version of the Q3 coming with more than 400hp. Chevy resurrected the Blazer as a “surprisingly sporty” crossover. Even the new three-row Ford Explorer will have a 400-plus horsepower ST version to pair with the Edge ST launched the previous year.
Yes, you can still buy a robust, hulking, body-on-frame Mercedes G-Class. But, even that redone car for the 2019 model year has an AMG G 63 version with 577hp that will propel itself from 0-60mph in only 4.5 seconds.
3. Volkswagen Being a Small Car Manufacturer
The Golf is the car that defined Volkswagen’s brand. It’s practical. It’s affordable. It’s fun. There may be no better entry-level car. The vaunted “MQB” platform exists to spread as much Golf-ness around the Volkswagen AG lineup as possible. The Golf remains a bestseller in Europe. But, Americans just don’t want to buy it anymore.
Base Golf sales in the U.S. declined 51 percent year-over-year in 2018, fewer than the outgoing Beetle Coupe. Sales for the entire Golf family fell 39 percent. Meanwhile, Volkswagen SUV sales more than doubled in the U.S. in 2018. VW cars went from outselling SUVs 3-1 to being about even in one year. When VW unveiled its three-prong strategy for American domination at NAIAS, the three prongs were the Tiguan, the Atlas and the Jetta. In America at least, Volkswagen is in the stylish, slightly upmarket three-row SUV business.
Some of the Golf’s decline may be model fatigue. The current generation debuted in the 2012 model year. The new generation will come out in 2020. Still, it’s hard to ignore the Volkswagen paradigm shift.
4. The ICE Truck Having a Decades-Long Future
In November, GM’s VP of global strategy predicted gasoline trucks would be the company’s core business for decades to come. Already, that statement looks shortsighted. Electric alternatives are coming. Rivian looks poised to disrupt the high-end luxe-truck market with the 400-plus mile range, supercar-esque off-road beast R1T. Tesla has a truck coming out later this year. GM’s chief competitor Ford announced it will come out with an EV F-150.
Internal combustion pickups won’t be able to keep up on performance or efficiency. We seem to be hitting the wall for how efficient a full-sized gasoline truck can be. Chevy tried introducing a four-pot turbo. EPA efficiency disappointed. In real life testing, it was less efficient on the highway than GM’s 5.3-liter V8. Whatever the engine displacement, it has to burn gas to move a heavy load.
Full-sized pickups remain the best-selling and most profitable vehicles in the U.S. But, gas will get more expensive. Battery technology will cheapen. There will be a point where gas means paying a premium for a worse product. If the consumer market diminishes, Amazon won’t be powering its delivery vehicles with a 6.3-liter V8. The truck conversion may come sooner than previously thought.
5. The Car Being An Intimate Space
Driving once meant digital disconnection. Text and emails had to wait. Ad content could not reach the cockpit. Driving was a time for quiet contemplation, belting out Eagles songs you secretly love and picking your nose without scrutiny. Apple Carplay and Android Auto pierced the inner sanctum. Tech firms stressing “connectivity” plan to take things much further.
Location tracking is a given. One can’t release a new car without a touchscreen. Actually touching the screen is now passé. Your new vehicle will be listening to you so you can yell at the screen and watching your every move so you can control it with goofy gestures. It will have some form of home assistant permitting you to surf the web (if that’s still what the kids are calling it), shop and, most importantly, continue producing a stream of metadata. Think you can ignore all this digitalia? Here’s a 48-inch digital display stretching the length of the dashboard.
None of this is meant to enhance driving. It’s preparation for the world where you are not operating the vehicle, and you may not be its sole owner. The automobile may still offer you some alone time. But, your car and tech firm algorithms (not to mention your office) will know what you’re up to.