Browse Publications Technical Papers 2000-01-C029

What Is a Car? Beyond Electronics 2000-01-C029

A car today presents itself under many guises: as an "office on wheels,'' a "family space,'' a "toy,'' a "sports car,'' a go-anywhere vehicle, or some hybrid combination. What it means to "drive'' consequently is also changing to include more and more secondary activities over and above the primary activity of "vehicle control.'' As the car continues to evolve, electronics plays a large role, particularly in the development of secondary activities such as entertainment and communications, and as mechanical functions are gradually replaced by electronics. Nevertheless, despite the obvious extension of the functionality of the vehicle, and its continuing improvements, there is a growing concern today that the passenger vehicle may be losing emotional resonance with the customer. The fear is that it might simply become a commodified "wheeled conveyance'' or even an "appliance,'' despite all efforts to increase its functionality and usefulness.
Under these circumstances, one may certainly ask the question: "What, indeed, is the true nature of carness that we might elevate and protect it?'' Or "After all, what IS a car?''
In this paper, we pose an answer to the question "What is a car?'' after leafing through its history. We claim that the principal attribute of a "car'' as opposed to a "wheeled conveyance'' is its enduring ability to emotionally engage the driver, either driving the car, or viewing the exterior. This we claim is the "creative distance'' of the car and the driver, a "distance'' created by the fact that the car poses significant challenge, emotionally or intellectually, or even physically, to the driver or owner.
We then suggest a theory of product content that will focus industry effort on what we claim is the basis of creative distance, what we call the "firm- specific content.'' The final section of the paper details the special role that electronics can play in building a creative distance.


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