In 20 Years, These Features will be Lame (or Cool)
Automotive tastes clearly change. Park a baroque mid-1970s Lincoln next to a modern Prius and that much is clear. What's harder to tell is what aspects of contemporary cars history will consign to the dustbin of good taste, and which will become celebrated touchpoints of our era.
We're going to make some bold predictions. Imagine it's 2037, and you're looking at circa-2017 cars. What'll make you cringe, or smile? Read on.
In theory, puddle lights are there to illuminate any possible muck that an owner may unintentionally drag into their car's interior. Most of these lights show off the manufacturer's logo, leading to the Bat Signal you see above.
Honestly, these look pretty tacky today. On anything less than smooth, pristine pavement the image is a blurry mess. In 20 years, this is going to look like the gold package on a '90s Lexus.
Matte Paints and Wraps
As this is written, there's a rather fetching BMW M760Li X Drive in our test fleet. It's matte black, with a black and white leather interior. We think it's cool right now, but we're not so sure it will still seem that way in 20 years.
If nothing else, at least customs from the 20-teens will always be identifiable at future classic car shows...
Easily one of the most popular interior design fads of the last couple of years is ambient lighting. Every car segment from econoboxes to luxury sedans has at least one vehicle that comes with LED lights crammed into every dark nook and cranny of the interior. Though I will confess a certain fondness for the illuminated novelties, I also know full well that this trend will likely lose favor in the near future.
How do I know this? Because we already went through it. In the days of the first Fast and Furious film, neon underglow and interior lighting were the hottest mods around. They were even highlights in games such as Need For Speed Underground and Midnight Club.
Just a few years later, they became incredibly uncool, mostly for being more about show than function. I suspect the same will happen with factory setups. But given enough time, they could become cool again in the same way that flamboyant chromed interiors of the '50s did.
Racing StripesWhen haven't racing stripes been cool? Why shouldn't they be cool 20 years from now? OK, so if everything in 2037 is some autonomous transport pod, yeah, they'll be unbelievably lame. But if that's really the case, we'll just buy a bunch of really sweet "classic" cars ... many of which will have racing stripes.
Alcantara is a manmade material that can most easily be thought of as artificial suede. It has the same basic look and feel, though Alcantara is a little more robust. In most cases it can handle spills, stains and even fire with ease.
When it was first used in cars, it was a neat connection to racing. Things have gone way, way too far. Need to jazz up an interior? Slather it with enough Alcantara to snuff out a forest fire. Bonus points if it's anything but black or grey.
"Floating" Roofs"Floating roofs" – which are very much attached because everyone can see that little blacked-out strip on the D-pillar because we're not blind, guys – are very much in vogue right now. So much so that they're appearing on everything, it seems.
And when a particular styling feature explodes all over the scene all at once, you wouldn't be crazy to bet that it'll be dated just as quickly. There's almost no chance that this will still be a cool feature for new cars in 2037. We're not putting pop-up headlights on anything anymore, are we? The jury is out on whether this will become kitchy-cool on older cars, though. Verdict: mixed. We'll have to wait and see.
Exposed Carbon Fiber
How this design cue hasn't already become played out is beyond our comprehension. Every single luxury car that wants to appear even slightly sporty slathers on the woven trim on every panel possible. And it's just a veneer. There are no weight gains from this trim, and even if there were, it would be negligible over plastic with wood veneer, or aluminum trim.
The lack of function, as mentioned in the ambient lighting section, is a sure sign of fleeting coolness. Another sure sign is the proliferation of fake carbon fiber trim. So many economy cars have started including plastics with a woven texture to emulate the high-priced real stuff, and it's about as cool as plastic wood and plastic aluminum. Carbon fiber's days of haute couture are numbered.
In the late 1980s, Nintendo launched a game controller called U-Force, that used infrared motion sensors to play games without touching the controller. It was horrible. We bought it for the novelty, but it gathered dust after we figured out that it didn’t work nearly as well as pressing physical buttons with our thumbs.
We feel the same way about touchless controls for cars. The first time we were able to open the liftgate on a Ford Escape by kicking underneath the rear bumper, we thought it was cool … when we could get it to work. The same goes for BMW’s gesture controls. As impressive as it may be to your passenger that you can change the volume on the stereo by twirling your finger in the air, it’s simply easier, quicker and more accurate to turn a knob or roll a thumb wheel to do the same thing.
These are basically redundant features that aren’t as intuitive as they’re made out to be. By the time they work well enough to replace touch controls, the novelty will have worn off, and interest will have waned. In 20 years, we imagine gesture controls will have gone the way of the U-Force.
Internal Combustion EnginesThe kids in 2037 will probably think internal combustion engines are totally lame. Obsolete, stinky and a big reason for the global climate-caused chaos around them, what's cool about them? Us old farts, though, will still think them incredibly cool.
LED Headlight Accents
LEDs are, don't get us wrong, cool in general. Just on the verge of nailing the coffin shut on the incandescent bulb in automotive use, they will certainly be the preferred light-emitter of choice for the next 20 years unless something truly groundbreaking comes along. But, the way they're being employed is at issue.
Take these Audi accent lights, a curved line of individual LEDs. The little bulbs are novel, so these accents show them off quite distinctly. But LED lights won't be novel forever. We predict lighting will deemphasize them in the future. After all, cars don't have giant "16V DOHC" decals anymore, because those engine features became commonplace. Well before 2037, these accents will be a dated novelty. Remember opera lights?