Posts Tagged car magazines

Printed narratives

Cube Colors 034What do this month’s issues of Car & Driver and Popular Science have in common? 3D printing.

There’s something about the summer that causes magazine editors to compile lists of future technologies that are poised to change… something. The Car & Driver cover story  for August features “The Tech 50” for cars, while Popular Science is probing the future of flight in their July issue (both are on newsstands now).

Both the automotive and aviation industries, it seems, could benefit from 3D printing. “Printed Cars” was number six on C&D’s list of paradigm-shifting tech.

Jim Kor, leader of the Urbee printed car project, told the magazine that 3D printing is a superior manufacturing process because it requires less energy, produces less waste, and doesn’t require time-consuming retooling when changes to the design have to be made.

Popular Science was also impressed by a 3D printer’s lack of tooling, noting that aircraft manufacturers already use it to rapidly produce prototype parts.

It seems that 3D printing’s time has come, at least in the media. While there aren’t any cars in production with printed parts, and only a few small items on the spanking-new Boeing 787, the technology seems to have a bright future.

There have been glorious predictions of 3D printers for the price of a cheap ink jet in the tech press for awhile, but now journalists from other beats are developing applications for it. Time to take notice.

Maybe it’s my cynical 21st century media consumer nature taking over, but it seems like every time someone wants to write about the “future” of an industry, they are obligated to mention the hottest new piece of tech.

Whether its phone connectivity or data management, the technologies of centuries past are increasingly expected to absorb new “tech” to stay relevant.

There’s nothing insidious about this, and I have to say I really do like 3D printing. It’s got a whiff of Marxism to it, giving individuals a small chunk of the means of production. It’s theoretical march from startup office to heavy industry is very predictable, though.

Like other aspects of the tech-o-sphere, 3D printing is a very cool, genuinely new technology that hasn’t really found a purpose yet. Hence the endless possibilities being suggested.

If I were allowed to make a prediction of my own, I’d say that these magazine articles will become self-fulfilling prophecies. People will eventually find an ideal use for 3D printing, just as they did for the Internet, and the rest of the world will be subtly warped to maximize that use.

Technologies can become widespread not just because they are useful, but because people want to find uses for them. Will 3D printing follow that trend?

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The future of nostalgia

Lexus LS600hL engine compartmentThe chrome gleamed in the sun as golden oldies blared on speakers. It was a car show where, like so many across the United States, the most desirable rides of yesterday lined up for their adoring fans. It makes one wonder: does this kind of thing have a future?

The foundation of the classic car hobby is the lone tinkerer who takes on a restoration as a weekend project; open a magazine like Hemmings Classic Car and you’ll find dozens of these stories.

The problem is that new cars, the antiques of tomorrow, are getting harder to work on. With yards and yards of wiring controlling everything, today’s cars are very complicated. Engines won’t start unless dozens of sensors for everything from the fuel pump to the gauges are connected.

Some companies, like Volkswagen, use specialized screws and bolts that make simple tasks nearly impossible if one doesn’t have the correct tools.

Patching a rusted steel panel is a relatively simple matter, but new cars include many materials, such as plastic, aluminum, and composites, that are difficult to work on at home. That also means replacement parts will be more expensive: the catalytic converters on a 2005 Subaru Outback are full of precious metals, and cost thousands of dollars each.

The problems aren’t just technical. There are some great cars on the road today, but people don’t seem to have the emotional attachment that collectors share with their chromed and finned 1950s cruisers or ‘60s muscle cars.

A new Corvette would destroy its vintage counterpart, or any vintage Ferrari or Porsche for that matter, in any race. Yet it doesn’t turn heads the way the 1960s Stingrays do.

Back in the day, cars loomed large in popular culture, but now they have to share the spotlight with other consumer items like smart phones and tablets (who knows, maybe those will become collectible).

Car show denizens shouldn’t despair, though. There are still plenty of dedicated gearheads (just look at the plethora of car magazines and automotive reality shows) who care about nothing else. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” even if future car restorers have to learn a little more about software.

There is also a significant aftermarket industry that makes everything from trim pieces to tires for the current crop of classics. If enough people want to restore a 2012 Volkswagen GTI or Dodge Charger in 25 years, there will certainly be a business case for said companies to produce parts for those cars that can’t be fabricated in a garage.

The classic car hobby probably won’t go away, but it will face a few challenges. This hobby may be all about nostalgia, but even people who love the past (definitely not a crime) need to think about the future.

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