Armchair Executive: Is There A Market For An Analog Luxury Car?

This is the weekly series where you, the Techshake commentariat, are invited to take the reins of the auto industry, for at least as long as it takes you to write a comment. It’s all the responsibility, with none of the compensation!

Being a child of the 1980s, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I have a bizarre fascination with the W126-body Sonderklasse, or as we know it today, the S-class. It was–and still is–my ideal of luxury, as dowdy and pragmatic a luxury car as has ever been imagined.

At dealerships and auto shows, the “bank vault” demo (in which the salesperson would slam one of the doors shut, making a seismic thud that shook the floor) impressed me to no end as a child. The W126 was built with solidity to conduct Important Business, the way office furniture used to be built.

Thirty years later, the new-school “dreadnought” class of luxury cars is currently caught in an inexorable march toward more and more technological wizardry, in an effort to out-impress each other’s intended customers. Right now we live in the age of die neue S-Klasse, known internally as the W222; loaded with sensors and adaptive suspension and steering components, the car can very nearly drive itself.

Not that the old W126 could be ever have been described as Luddite in nature: it was the first car to be made available with airbags (1981), the first to offer seatbelt pre-tensioners (1981), the first to offer traction control (1989), and the first to offer a four-speed automatic transmission with a “topographical sensor” that detected the grade at which the car was travelling, to keep the cruise control smooth, and prevent the car from riding backwards when moving uphill from a dead stop.

But to me, those individual features seemed to age fairly gracefully; airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners take a very long time to achieve true obsolescence on their own. Will the high-res screens that currently replace the dashboard look as dated in ten years as navigation screens from 2005 do today? Will the current suite of automated driving tech be able to “play well with others” in thirty or forty years’ time?

From a consumer perspective, it almost feels a bit like the kind of “planned obsolescence” ploy that consumer cellphone manufacturers seem to have cooked up. Anybody still using a cellphone from more than five years ago? Anybody?

So, what would happen if we designed a car whose premier feature was longevity? One whose electronic content was kept to an absolute minimum, in favor of feature content that is designed to last fifty years or more? One whose interior materials were designed not to look permanently “new,” but to reach their peak gracefully and build a pleasant patina over time?

If the object of the game is moving more cars off the lots, does that seem like a self-defeating prophecy? How would you price a car like that to offset the eventual dip in sales?

We know already that there’s currently a mass market for analog sports cars: the Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ twins and Mazda Miata come to mind right away. How much of a stretch is it to imagine a car as focused on endurance as those cars are on driving pleasure?

Have your say below in the Comments.

Author: David Surace

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  1. No changes of this type will occur until the true cost of producing a car is factored into its purchase price. By that, I mean the long term environmental and social costs, not just the current manufacturing costs.

  2. An analog luxury car, now thats a car I’d want to see.

  3. It would be a wonder to behold but, sadly, I don’t see an analog luxury car in the cards anytime soon.

  4. I miss my 1985 Bentley Turbo R. A simple V8 fuel injection and no major electronic gizmos..Just me the sound of the car and the road.

  5. I hope so … let’s see what the coming years hold!

  6. I miss cars which could be repaired by wrench and hammer. There was great times and great machines. Simple, deep V8 sound… ehh 🙂 Even M-B W123 was great 🙂

  7. I think there will always be a market for old fashioned stuff. I’m not even “old” and it still interests me.

  8. I like the model longevity idea, but I think the last time that was attempted as a marketing ploy was when Studebaker was on its way out. “No yearly model changes, we promise!” To a certain odd corner of the buying public, that’s appealing — not large enough to keep a car company at the critical level of sales, however. At the time it looked like desperation on the part of Stude because it was. Time passes, things change, technology get outdated, ideas get worn out. People want fresh. They’ll pay for fresh even if freshness is the opposite of practicality.

    One thing I really like is the notion of open electronic architecture in cars. I want to be able to plug in my digital communicator (or pair it, in the case of Bluetooth) and have it do useful things with any car I might drive. This means more to me than any $5K “tech option group” an automaker might cook up.

  9. Ooo its really awesome ..I wish could have this type of car which which signifies real luxury ..Cheers to Mercedes !!

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