Simplicity of Use

A second (see prior discussion here) way to explore the future of the sports car is via the concept of simplicity of use

Simplicity of use involves creating an offering experience accessible by non-expert users. As the Stanford historian Joe Corn notes, one hundred years ago the car was an ornery beast, and its “users” had to bring their own “IT department” along in the form of a riding mechanic or chauffeur.  In the intervening years, automobile designers have added layers of technology between the driver and the base mechanicals so that the overall use experience became less complex; mechanical and electrical complexity went up, but experiential complexity dropped.  For example, these days it’s possible to maneuver a bling-bling three-ton Cadillac Escalade with no more than your right foot, index finger and thumb – all due to the miracles of integrated circuits, advanced hydraulics, and servo motors.  The trick in designing sports cars is to achieve simplicity of use without adding weight – the source of the wide experiential gulf between a 2005 Porsche 911 and its 40-year-old great-grandfather, the 356C.

Perhaps the best example of simplicity of use in the sports car realm was the first-generation Mazda Miata.  The MG TC may have been fun to drive because of agricultural directness, but keeping it on the road required a high level of mechanical skill, or at least a good relationship with a mechanic named Nigel.  In terms of reliability, the 356 was much better, but only so far as contemporary state of the art would allow: park one in your garage, and your living room will soon reek of Shell’s finest!  The Miata raised the standard of simplicity for the sports car ownership experience by adding a layer of sophisticated Japanese engineering between motor and driver to make everything as reliable and bulletproof, yet lightweight, as possible.  Want a motor that only really gets broken in around the 100,000-mile mark?  Check.  No more oil leaks?  Check.  A top that keeps the rain out?  Check.  All with delicious handling?  Check.  If that isn’t simplicity of use, I don’t know what is.  The magic of the Miata is that the sophistication was engineered in without creating a lardy car. 

Simplicity of use and simplicity of specification must inform the point of view for the sports car of the future. That car is many ways already here: the Lotus Elise, which employs an elegant aluminum chassis, simple plastic body panels, a reliable Toyota four-cylinder motor, and lots of lightness to create the delicious feel of a MG TC or 356, only better.