Automotive journalist Michael Taylor discusses the changing role of powertrain engineers in an age where horsepower can simply be coded up.
There is one question that has always flummoxed me about the car industry and the way its engineers – the self-professed smartest fellows in the room – pander to the product marketers they privately disdain. That question is this: in an age where horsepower can be coded up or bought in, are marketers more valuable to modern car companies than engineers?
The rest of us have always assumed it was a constant binary struggle between engineers and accountants, but all the while the marketers were chewing away at both cornerstones of the business.
Designed-in quality alone would suggest that the world’s most valuable automotive company, Tesla, has about nine engineers and is run by a cult-leading marketing god king. Its annual R&D spend is outstripped by the Volkswagen Group by about January 6 every year.
You guys opened the door to them, you know.
First it was downsizing of engines, and then it was the appallingly phrased ‘right-sizing’ that spun out of research and development departments.
They asked you engineers to deliver them, like, 10 different power outputs from the same basic engine, with just coding or easily line-adjusted hardware changes.
Then they had to tell the public that, no, they should never chip a cheaper (read: identical) engine for the extra power in the top-of-the-line model because, umm, that’s what we do for you. For more money.
Shameful, I tell you, and the marketers went and blamed it publicly on you.
Further back, there came the day when computers became widespread, new materials showed up, fuel injection became more precise and turbochargers became more reliable than the smoke generators they used to be.
We can fix most of these emission problems if we keep the same outputs, you all said. Halve them, even.
But that’s not what happened, is it?
No. A light 200ps car became a hefty 300ps car, which became an elephantine 400ps SUV.
The chance was lost. They again publicly blamed it on you, insisting you fed in hundreds of safety kilos when the reality was they’d convinced buyers they needed the heated, ventilated seats that the extra power could now drag around.
High horsepower from normal capacities led to some strange love children, like an Audi RS Q8 that runs to 100km/h in less than four seconds.
That sort of thing, ladies and gentlemen, is a profligate way to paint a target on your back in a changing world.
Then they tricked the world’s drivers into believing they needed to switch from their comfy, nice-handling sedans, wagons and hatchbacks into high-riding SUVs that weighed 25% more, used more raw materials, drank more fuel, wore stuff out faster and chewed up the road infrastructure. All for the same internal size as they had before.
Again, they blamed you engineers – and the public.
They made you the Marlboro Men of your generation.
And still you stay married to them.
You know exactly what a marriage counselor would say, so why don’t you do it?