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Carmakers Started Deleting Features To Speed Up Deliveries, but There Are Red Lines
Faced with chip shortages, carmakers had to make the hard choice between stopping production while waiting for new chips to be delivered or continuing with the production and figuring out what to do later. Procrastination is in our nature, so you know the latter was an easy choice. But now, the moment of truth has arrived, and some people are voicing their discontent at missing features in their shiny new cars.

Carmakers Started Deleting Features To Speed Up Deliveries, but There Are Red Lines

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In the past month, we’ve covered the increasing number of features that carmakers started to delete from their vehicles. The stories stirred up discussions, and so we began to ponder what would be the red line between the features you can live without and those that were the very reason you wanted a new vehicle in the first place. But before we go deeper into this, a little context first.

Right until the international health crisis hit us in the spring of 2020, carmakers were scratching their heads thinking about what ridiculously useless features to cram inside their vehicles. Everyone wanted their products to offer more than their rivals, without even considering if “more” was actually useful. This is how the aerial gestures to turn up the volume appeared in BMW cars.

But then the restrictions came in, plants were closed, and all of a sudden, the automotive industry ground to a halt. The chip makers found themselves without orders for what was pretty much an outdated technology that only car manufacturers used. At the same time, there was an increased demand from the electronics industry for laptops, TVs, and other devices used by people working from home. It was an easy choice for the chip industry to switch.

But that left the car industry high and dry when the demand for new vehicles spiked toward the end of 2020. The chip makers could not return to making chips for the car industry because their whole production was now geared towards more advanced chips for electronics devices. And the automotive industry cannot use the more advanced chips without going again through a complicated and costly process of certification for the new components.

Of course, at some point in time, the car manufacturers will adjust to the new chips on the market, and the chip industry will ramp up their production to meet demand. Just look at Intel investing close to $100 billion in new chip fabs in Europe and the U.S. The situation will ease, just it won’t happen overnight.

Until this gets sorted out, though, the carmakers still need to figure out what to do to keep the production going. Remember those ridiculous hand waves in the air to turn up the volume in BMW cars? Gone. There’s not even a touchscreen now in select BMW models. Don’t get me wrong, the iDrive is one of the most well thought out human-machine interfaces on Earth, but a touchscreen is still the preferred way to access some simple functions on a car screen. Mazda owners have known this first hand since before it was cool.

Thinking the chip shortages would not last very long, the carmakers started to produce vehicles only to park them on parking lots. The idea was to retrofit them with the missing chips as they became available. When the lots were packed full with vehicles, there came the second thought of delivering the cars to customers without the missing chips. This is how missing features started to become the norm.

It started small, with some options that are not very hard to live without. Think about the start&stop system. It is designed to save fuel while in stop-and-go traffic, but most people think of it as an annoyance. Taking delivery of their new car faster and without start&stop was a boon. But soon, more valuable features started to disappear, and people began to become startled. So how far can the carmakers go in stripping out features to save chips so they can deliver the vehicles faster?

Of course, they cannot cut on the security systems, assistance systems, or other safety-related features. That would be a blow to their safety grades with bodies like IIHS or other new car assessment programs. But they can skip on parking assistance systems, as GM already did on several vehicle lines. Is it useful? Yes. Can you live without it? Most likely, yes, and you get your vehicle earlier. Profit.

But when it’s delivered, you notice it does not feature, say, rear-seat climate control because you know why. Or heated seats. Or the power-adjustable steering wheel and seats. The love affair starts to unravel, although you can still live without the air conditioning in the back of your SUV. The things did not end here, though, and in the case of the Chevrolet Corvette, the Magnetic Ride suspension disappeared. Now some folks who ordered the sports car were really pissed about that.

What can the carmakers take away and get away with it? Radio, checked. Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra sell without the HD radio already. But what about the whole infotainment system? Would you be willing to spend hours in a car without music? After all, the alternative is to not get your new vehicle delivered for a long time, maybe months or even years. We’d love to read your thoughts on this in the comments section below. What is your red line on this?

 
 
 
 
 

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