Love of tech overtaking love of driving
Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore was the creator of "Moore's Law," which states that computer processors double in power every two years. This explains why that hot new mobile phone that you just bought will make an excellent paper weight when your cellular phone contract expires 24 months from now. Or why that five-year-old desktop PC works at a speed best described as glacial.
Now, consider this: Based on a review of more than 247 million U.S. car and light truck registrations this year, consultants at R.L. Polk state that the average age of all light vehicles on the road stands at a record high of 11.4 years.
That means that the average car or truck traveling our roads was bought at about the same time that the first Apple iPod was introduced, with its 5-gigabyte hard drive, black-and-white screen and capacity of 1,000 songs. By comparison, the current iPod Classic has 160 GB of storage, enough to hold 40,000 songs. It can display 200 hours of video or 25,000 photos on its color screen.
Now, I understand that a mobile phone, PC or iPod is an inexpensive investment when compared to a new car or truck. Still, if you haven't been in one since George W. Bush was elected president – and odds are good that most of you haven't – you're in for a shock. To paraphrase the late singer Dinah Washington, what a difference a decade makes.
Pretend it's 2001 and you just purchased a new ride. Most likely, the vehicle's instrument panel electronics consists entirely of an AM/FM radio and, perhaps, a cassette tape or CD player. When coupled to the electronics in the driveline, the whole car might contain $200 worth of semiconductors, according to consultants at IHS Automotive.
Of course, back then, we didn't have smartphones with MP3 players and cameras in them. People didn't commonly text one another. Facebook was several years from launch. XM Satellite Radio had just started broadcasting.
Now, a new car or truck instrument panel usually has an AM/FM radio, not to mention HD radio, satellite radio and, maybe, a CD player. It has a USB port and Bluetooth for digital music files or displaying your smartphone applications. The car could also have GPS navigation, a rear-view camera and voice command recognition; some vehicles even double as a Wi-Fi hot spot.
This is in addition to the computers used for traction control, stability control, antilock brakes, blind-zone alert, collision mitigation, engine management systems and air bags.
Perhaps that's why the average car or truck contains about $330 worth of semiconductors, an increase of 65 percent according to IHS Automotive. Is it any wonder that infotainment systems alone now account for as much as 10 percent of a car's price?
It's further proof that driving is quickly declining as our top priority when behind the wheel. It's as if driving has been relegated to a 20th century obsession, replaced by the principal passion of the 21st – the virtual world.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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