Did you know these cars were actually automotive design fails?

Products of silly decisions that designers, engineers and executives have made that have ended up in the cars we buy today

By George Kuruvilla

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Tue 21 Dec 2021, 10:20 PM

The process of ideating, designing, manufacturing, and distributing automobiles is a serious business. Sometimes it takes a decade for a model to make it from thought to tarmac and in that time, they are worked upon by hundreds, if not thousands, of designers, engineers and workers; and very large sums of money are spent as well.

The inherent complexity of this process means that there are things that are often ignored, sidelined or the worst of them all… over-designed. Because of which we end up with vehicles that have quirks and chinks in their armour. This week we highlight some of the automotive design and technology fails that have left us scratching our heads!

Name is the game

Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name?” To which we say, “A lot!”. It is important to call a spade a spade, simply because it gives the potential buyer clarity about the vehicle he or she is purchasing. But here is an instance where Porsche boffins thought otherwise. The German automaker chose to go with the ‘turbo’ badge for the highest-spec Taycan. This was done to keep it consistent with the rest of the top trim models of the other ranges, namely the 911, Cayenne and Panamera, etc. But it certainly has left the Internet dumbfounded, because the Taycan is an EV (electric vehicle) and certainly one that does not require a turbocharged engine. See the confusion!

And speaking of names, what’s up with Infiniti’s naming protocol? Not too long ago, it was an alpha-numeric system, where the mid-size sedans had the ‘G’ prefix, the compact SUV had the ‘FX’, the full-size SUV had the ‘QX’ and so on and so forth. It was simple and elegant. Now they use the ‘Q’ prefix for everything… coupes, sedans, crossovers and SUVs. And you can imagine how this could baffle an individual! Maybe, the big boss forced his hand and the team ran with it or maybe they ran out of letters or maybe they have a bigger agenda! Who knows?

If it isn’t their names as such, it’s got to do with segment or class. For example, there are more than a handful of vehicles with the SUV tag these days, but don’t really do justice to the class. Some of them have the ground clearance of a sedan and some don’t come with the option of a 4x4 drivetrain. The fact that they may be good or even great urban family vehicles matters less. What does matter is whether they can do what SUVs were built to do i.e. going offroad… or at least to the beach. And this is where most of them fail. The 2016 Chevrolet Captiva we test drove comes to mind — you could get its chin i.e. front bumper scraped even at the wheel stoppers at mall parking lots.

Accommodation Inaccuracies

Then there are manufacturers that dare to place some of their vehicles in the “2+2” segment. The style of a 2-door vehicle combined with the 4-seater arrangement sounds like a good idea. If done right you end up with something like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe, but otherwise you can end up with a vehicle that has a rear quarters fit for hobbits or a similar species, like the Porsche 911.

You see, while the 911 is amongst the best sports cars out there and there isn’t anything more satisfying than being in the driver’s seat of one, its rear cabin is an unfriendly place to be in. In fact, cars like the 911, the Lexus IS convertible, and Audi TT are all in the same boat in this regard. You really need to contort your body to get in and stay in those back seats.

And it is just not about human accommodations! The next point is something we never really ponder over but are annoyed with every time we try to stow away our knickknacks i.e. keys, glasses, etc. Most of these spots or trays are oddly shaped and don’t accommodate anything real or they don’t have rubberised padding to help stow sharper or delicate items or are too small to hold a smartphone. In the end, these knickknacks end up being rattled like a ball in a whistle and fly off the tray at the first turn.

Technology gaffes

A large chunk of these blunders can be seen within the tech features of the automobile. Has anyone heard about the ‘drowsiness indicator’? You probably wouldn’t have seen it unless you drive a high-end German sedan or SUV. It is supposed to put out alerts, if it detects that the driver is snoozing off at the wheel. Whenever we’ve driven one with it, we found out that they come on too often and for no reason. Maybe it is the driver’s squinting eyes, maybe it is a momentary steering inconsistency, but it gets activated unnecessarily. And even if it recognises your state of consciousness or the lack of it, the intensity of the alert — often a flashing graphic on the instrument panel — is not something that would wake up a driver. So, the whole thing seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it?

Then, of course, you have the paddle shifter! They are all the rage especially when you’re in the market for a sporty or luxury sedan or SUV. In insolation, they are spectacular piece of technology. These F1-inspired flappers effectively give the driver the right to change gears (or gear rations) without taking their hands off the steering. Thing is nobody sane uses them often. While you may own a Merc, Beemer or Porsche and you keep it spick and span, we can guarantee that those paddle shifters are catching dust.

In a country where the sun determines our travelling comfort, air condition is key but what about heating? Why on earth do we need seat heaters and a heated steering wheel? The winter temperatures are almost always comfortable never frigid. My recommendation to manufacturers is to kick this one out of the options’ list and kick down the price as well.

Self-driving vehicles are certainly the future. But in the present also, we do have cars with that technology, just a terrible version of it. Since these vehicles aren’t fully autonomous yet, after a short while of driving without your hands on the wheel, you are constantly urged to do so. This takes away from the feeling of journeying easy under a virtual chauffeur to a more irritable experience.

An equally overthought piece of technology is gesture control. Why have an infotainment system that can recognise wave-in-the-air actions like swiping, tuning, pressing, etc. when you can do it more accurately and quicker on a touchscreen just a few inches away! The last 7-Series sedan I drove did not make head or tail of my sign language.


More news from