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Ralph needs help: add tech or no?

by Chris Vander Doelen on

Ralph Gilles, Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, took an interesting question to the ‘net Tuesday to seek a little input from the Mopar community – and anybody else who wants to weigh in.

His question is about handheld technology, rather than body work. Obviously there is some debate going on within the company as to how much tech to build-in to future vehicles, and how much to leave to the buyer’s discretion and imagination.

Do consumers want built-in tech in all its factory installed glory – and rigid finality? (You know how hard it is to find just a matching bezel for the console when you replace just a radio). Or do we prefer to add our own tech, post-purchase, so we can customize our ride to our heart’s content, putting the stamp of our own personality on an important living space?

FCA interior design concept

Gilles, who posted his question on Instagram and later Tweeted it from his account there, too, put it this way: “When a tight budget (or not) is a consideration, bring your own tech or pay extra to enjoy a built-in system with replicated/projected view of apps on your smart devices? Thx.”

Within the hour he had more than 300 responses and likes. That number could add a few zeros if younger buyers notice the question.

Obviously the second option — letting the customer decide — is already being introduced by FCA, to some degree, as evidenced in the leak this week of the 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL customer handbook. According to the manual, four generic ‘AUX’ switches have been added to the new Wrangler’s console, which have no dedicated function. They’re there to give buyers factory-installed dash controls for whatever after-market auxiliary devices they want to add, be they a winch, light bars, beverage cooler or underbody illumination.

And then there is the “brought in” technology, as Gilles puts it: the phones, tablets, screens, music playback and whatever other technological developments are coming that we haven’t imagined yet. Whatever they are, they now seem to arrive unexpectedly with nearly instantaneous consumer adoption – which is a little difficult to plan for. Do we want those devices embedded in the dash, or do we want “dedicated perches” carved out of the interior so we can add our own (as shown in the concept photo above), as Gilles asks?

You can see what a problem this presents to an industry that has to design interiors today and order parts next month for vehicles that won’t reach showrooms until 2020. If there still are showrooms. Or will we be placing our orders online from a virtual reality visor in our living rooms?

This has to be a design struggle going on at all the OEMs. Gilles might share one day and tell us what he and his team learned after going public with the question.

 

Chris Vander Doelen was Opinion Editor and columnist of The Windsor Star until December, 2016; He was the Star's automotive reporter and columnist for seven years, and had also covered the political and gambling beats. With his wife, Veronique Mandal, he wrote the book Chasing Lightning (1999). Chris won a National Newspaper Award in 1997 and more than a dozen provincial news awards. There is a Chrysler 300 in his driveway.


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