Fundamentals and refinements

There are some design points that you have to hit to make sure a vehicle is appropriate for use and meets definition. For instance a standard definition for a car is that it has to have four wheels. But vans, go-carts and trucks can also have four wheels.  Therefore in defining a car you also have to factor in size, configuration of seats, engine and a thousand other variables. In addition, the law of a country will also define what a car is and manufactures therefore need to meet these criteria for their product to be used on the road.

Hopefully none of the above is shocking anyone but when you are buying a car or weighing up one against the other things begin to get murky. For instance a Ford KA and a Vauxhall Corsa are undoubtedly both cars and very similar in their practical design, intended use and driving experience. As they are both bidding for the same corner of a market how do you choose one over the other? Based on that intended market things will begin to differ.


If the KA’s selling point for 2017 was that it had upgraded suspension components and the Corsa’s was that it came with air conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity how would the buying public vote? Thinking in a more performance orientated sector Porsche buyers might be swayed by upgraded suspension and could live without Bluetooth.

I have noticed that brand new 2017 ‘common cars’ have drum brakes on the rear and more performance orientated Cars have discs all round. This is one example of what is important to a different buying sector. The disc brakes have to be there because of the other performance modifications whereas a Porsche may not have to have (in terms of selling) start stop technology or ‘blue motion’ or ‘eco boost’ fuel saving tech whereas the KA would be dead in the water if it did not have these or similar upgrades.


Furthermore, the differences can be seen in the same models line of the same manufacture. So when you are deciding on buying a Ford KA do you go for a 2005, 2010 or 2015 (for arguments sake lets say they all in showroom 0 miles condition). The differences between the models can be broken down broadly. This one has ABS, this one has AC this one has Bluetooth. It remains that different specifications of vehicles will be important to different people. Fundamentally they are all the same car; same size, shape power etc and will be used for the same things. So what you pay for is the minimal gains that have added up year after year that make the 2015 model different to the 2005 model.

But then you ask yourself what is really important to me in a car? When buying vehicles I like to have a game plan. Say you are driving your old car in the rain and notice that the steering is light and does not feel planted then it makes sense that you would like your next car to be more stable on the road in poor conditions. So you go to the dealer and explain as much. Then you leave with a car with all round disc brakes, traction control, wider tyres, Bluetooth phone connectivity and leather seats all of which ‘would be good’. However you could have chosen to buy a 2005 Ford Focus to replace the 2005 Ford KA instead. You would immediately find that it would hold the road better. It is physically larger, heavier and would have larger tyres. Yet it is so easy to fall into the idea of an improved version of something instead of changing underlying fundamental design.

There are always trade-offs in this respect however having specific design cues makes for a better experience over and above improving a flawed or unsuitable design. A marked example of this is aircraft engines. One-day multi propeller engined (that fundamentally are not too dissimilar from car engines) aircrafts where not suitable anymore for intended use. Starting from scratch a suitable jet engine was designed and aircrafts were changed forever. No matter how much research and development went into improving a propeller engine there was no getting away from how superior the jet engine is for commercial or military aircrafts.


But it remains that both types of aircrafts are designed and made. Where once the aircrafts fashioning propellers were at the cutting edge of design and technology it is now languishing for hobbyists, espionage and small transfer flights.

So where and how do you draw the line? You can be rest assured that if you pick a car with fundamental design cues for your interests it will always behave admirably and without surprises (for its intended use). However if you want to be closer to the sharpened edge of technology and design then go for the ‘enhanced’ version that has built up from a fundamental design. As a last example think of a Suzuki Jimny and a Range Rover both fundamentally have the same design philosophy but one at the far edge of basic and the other is a no holds barred enterprise inspired tech playground. You chose. At this point fundamental design has been ticket off and you have met your practical need and therefore your other buying desires come into play. Then starts the battle between needs and wants. We can do away with so much to meet our needs but hold onto so much more because of our wants.




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