Modest proposal: for a better car, get rid of the bells and whistles

Are automakers weighing down promising new vehicles by piling on too much in features and functionality? A smartphone dock and an amplifier might be better than complex in-car entertainment and navigation systems, one observer argues.

Are automakers weighing down promising new vehicles by piling on too much in features and functionality? A smartphone dock and an amplifier might be better than complex in-car entertainment and navigation systems, one observer argues.

My colleague Heather Clancy just highlighted SAP's growing fleet of electric vehicles. This is an encouraging trend that puts electric cars deeper into the mainstream.

It's also very encouraging that automakers see the opportunities in the emerging market for electric and hybrid vehicles. There were plenty of examples on display at the latest International American Auto and Consumer Electronics Shows (covered by SmartPlanet here , here , and here ).

However, for every trend there's an opposite, countervailing force. Engadget's Tim Stevens, for one, says automakers are going in the wrong direction in terms of features and functionality.

Stevens says they are piling on too many features, and trying to pack in more power. It would be better if the automakers sought to shed a lot of weight:

"Today's cars that have grown and swelled to obscene proportions, burdened by once simple solutions to simple problems that bumped up against other solutions to other problems and in turn created new problems. Heavier cars need bigger motors to keep them going as fast, which means bigger wheels and tires, bigger brakes, bigger fuel tanks... more weight to haul around. So the cycle continues, spiraling out of control."

For example, take out all the entertainment technology, he says:

"Each time I go to CES I see more and more impressive infotainment and telematics systems and as ever I can't wait to see what's next. But, I also can't help thinking the companies making these systems are wasting their time. It's time for the car's entertainment and navigation systems to be deleted. Smartphones do all that and more, with a cleaner, more user-friendly interface. Delete the stereo, delete the navigation system, delete the in-car cellular antenna, get rid of all that. Replace it with a simple smartphone dock and an amplifier. It's more weight saved, and less space taken up by a tangle of wires under the dash."

Perhaps this is where Toyota ran into issues with its software-controlled brake-pedal assemblies. A simple mechanical system that has been tried and proven for decades was replaced with a complex system.

As Stevens points out: "Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com