Driver aids are part and parcel of any new car nowadays. You wouldn’t batter an eyelid now if you bought a car with a reverse camera, or proximity sensors for when you’re too close to the car in front. More recently, even cars that ‘park themselves’ seem to be becoming ‘the norm’. But it wasn’t so long ago when consumers had to pay extra for car mats, or a radio. Intermittant wipers were an innovation when they first rolled out and high level brake lights? We felt so futuristic!
But, when, and why, did the development of this clever technology become the default offering?
Back in the 1970’s the Automotive sector was a different environment altogether. With strikes rife, a fuel crisis and the seemingly ever changing and merging of the British manufacturers, the emphasis was in delivering small cars to market, quickly and affordably. In that regard, the industry of 40 years ago shares a few similarities with the industry of today; namely to produce vehicles which can run more affordably on their fuel. Of course, back then it was 4 star at the pumps. Electric cars were a dream until Sir Clive Sinclair somewhat partly correctly concluded that the future of the industry lay with electric vehicles.
But, through the 1980’s, and then the 1990’s, the European, and indeed the global car market, started to evolve into what it is today, with a handful of ‘giant companies’ owning several sub brands, and in some cases completing transforming brands they’ve bought or merged with from ‘ugly duckling’ of the industry to premium, sought after luxury brands. But, processes and R&D sometimes often merged too. Technologies that may once have been invested in purely for the development of cars at the luxury end of one marque, eventually saw that investment trickle down to the more common, mass-produced vehicles bought by the average ‘Brit’, with 2.4 kids in tow.
Of course, some of the developed technologies have been less successful. Remember the ‘yuppies’ of the 1980’s? You’ll remember then when brick shaped ‘car phones’ started to find their way into the cockpits of the luxury brands before mobile phone technology quickly, and thankfully, surpassed them. Lets not get started on beaded seat covers.
It was a big day for some of us when British Leyland announced the Maestro and Montego would come with a ‘computer’ as part of the package in the 1980’s. For excited kids growing up in the 1980’s we envisaged these ‘computers’ to be akin to something we occasionally go to see on Tomorrow’s World on television. But of course, the computers were the start of the development of ECU’s to deliver to the driver feedback on the likes of fuel consumption, an electronic speedo reading and other simple measures that we now take for granted. But back then, this was big news!