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 $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.
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.