Are you old enough to remember the Yugo? If not, the Yugo was a Yugoslavian car manufactured between 1980 and 2008. The company behind the car based it on the Fiat 127. They sold fewer than 1 million units in 28 years of production, even though the Yugo’s selling point was price. It was dirt cheap.
Another hallmark of the Yugo is what it didn’t offer. It was, by every measure, a no-frills car intended for people who wanted a basic mode of transportation. Its bare necessities design made it cheap to build and equally cheap to sell, which leads us to the main thrust of this post: the expensive dilemma we have created for ourselves by building new technology into our cars.
Technology for Safety Purposes
If the Yugo were still being manufactured today, it is highly likely that it would not be equipped with things like park assist, lane assist, and so forth. You might even be hard-pressed to find technologies as basic as rear-mounted cameras. But that may be the very reason the Yugo failed so miserably.
The fact is that we love our technology. We love climbing into our cars and knowing that we have a state-of-the-art entertainment and navigation system at our fingertips. We take confidence in safety features that make it ever more difficult to cause an accident.
You could make the case that safety is the driving force behind most of the technology in modern cars. After all, who doesn’t want the roads to be safer? But all of this comes at a cost. By adding more technology, we are also increasing the cost of new cars. The increased cost is observed both on the sales lot and in the months and years following purchase.
Technology Adds Weight
Technology certainly adds to the cost of a new car at the time of purchase. But it also adds to the total cost of ownership. How so? By adding weight. Every piece of new technology involves new electronics that add to the total weight of the vehicle. Increased weight reduces fuel efficiency which, over time, costs money.
This is one of the reasons carmakers are searching for ways to incorporate carbon fiber and other composites into their vehicles. Carbon fiber offers significant weight savings without creating cars that are less strong or safe. But guess what? Carbon fiber costs more than steel, aluminum, and most plastics.
Saving weight might increase fuel efficiency and lead to lower fuel costs. But when you are saving weight with carbon fiber, you’re adding to the retail cost of vehicle purchase. Do you see the dilemma here?
Composites and Electric Vehicles
This dilemma only gets more complicated in the quest for electric vehicles (EVs). Both hybrids and EVs require a significant amount of technology to run. All of that technology just adds more weight. And in terms of all electrics, there is tremendous weight in the batteries.
Rock West Composites, a Utah company that provides composite materials to both commercial fabricators and hobbyists, explains that the automotive industry really wants to make better use of carbon fiber. But they need a cheaper supply of the material to make it financially viable. Until carbon fiber prices come down, carmakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
We certainly love our technology in the 21st century. So much so that we are adding it to our cars at a record pace. But all of this technology creates an unavoidable dilemma that hits the bank account hard. And at least for now, there is no way out.