The analog era is ending

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Published on 30 November 2023 by Andrew Owen (5 minutes)

Among other things, I’m a car bore. But I’ll try to keep that part brief. In my household, we have two cars: a 2019 e-Golf and a 2013 Toyota 86 (originally sold as the Scion FR-S in the US, also sold as the BRZ by Subaru). They bookend two automotive eras.

The 86 is the last affordable rear-wheel drive sports coupe where almost everything is analog; the gauges, the transmission, the differential. The steering is electric (instead of hydraulic), but it provides tactile feedback about what the car is doing. The engine is naturally aspirated (no turbo lag). It is relatively lightweight at under 3000 pounds (1,360 kg). It has a modest 200 horsepower, good for a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h). I verified this on the autobahn in Germany. It also has now practically extinct double-DIN stereo fitment (albeit in the wider 200 mm version), which meant I was able to upgrade it to support wireless Apple CarPlay back in 2019.

The e-Golf is the antithesis of the 86. It’s a front-wheel drive hatchback where almost everything is digital, including the gauge cluster. The steering feels like a video game controller. Power is provided by a 100 kW electric motor. It weighs over 3500 pounds (1,615 kg). It has a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). I have not verified this because with a range of 125 miles (200 km), I rarely drive it above 60 mph (100 km/h). You can’t fit an aftermarket stereo.

The e-Golf is based on the mark 7.5 internal combustion engine Golf. Which means it has a nicer interior than the current generation of Golf, and actual buttons for things like climate control and volume on the stereo. Manufacturers have followed Tesla’s lead of putting everything in the touch screen, but consumers are pushing back. You shouldn’t need to go into a menu to open the glove box.

Tesla has shaken up the car industry in many ways. It has driven consumer adoption of electric vehicles; rich kids would rather drive a Model 3 than a Mercedes. It has started a trend of brining component manufacturing back in house. But possibly the biggest innovation is the Giga Press. This enables full size cars to be made in a similar way to die-cast toy cars. This cuts costs and assembly time. And it’s being adopted by Toyota (still the biggest manufacturer by sales volume).

Ok, enough talk about cars. Have you bought any items for your kitchen lately? Chances are they came with Wi-Fi. As a former relief ship’s cook, I don’t think it’s a great idea to leave the evening meal in the oven all day just so you can start it cooking from your smartphone before you leave work. I’m still resisting smartphone connected home heating until I’m sure all the security problems have been solved.

Speaking of consumer goods, how long does your television take to boot? Everything is a computer now. And I’ve reached the age where I’m starting to find technology can be unnecessarily intrusive. This is typically down to poor UI/UX design. The last time I bought a television, I was more concerned about the operating system than the picture quality and other features. At this point, the only brand I would consider is LG because webOS (originally developed by Palm) is the fastest and least intrusive.

In the UK, where I used to live, it is now practically impossible to access government services without an internet connection. But as Yanis Varoufakis points out, governments have left it up to the banks to provide our digital identity. If you don’t have a bank account, you don’t exist. And speaking of banks, when was the last time you paid in cash? I haven’t used cash once this year.

I’ve written about AI a couple of times already this year, but let’s just say we’re at the start of something that is going to change society in ways we can’t begin to predict. Self-driving cars… (ok, I’ve said enough about cars already). I need to wrap things up now before this starts sounding like an “old man yells at cloud” rant. But I think we are at a real inflection point and in a short time 2023 will feel like a bygone age.


Sorry. More cars. The day after this went live Tesla unveiled the details of the production Cybertruck. It has a 48 volt electrical system. The industry has been talking about this for years, but has shown little progress. Tesla sent a PDF on how to do it to every other car manufacturer. The main upshot is that it’s the first fully drive-by-wire car. The wheel is one turn lock-to-lock. It uses the same redundant sensor system that’s been used for decades in passenger aircraft. The skin is an exoskeleton made of a new steel alloy called HFS. It’s so tough that it replaces impact structures in the body. It also uses much larger battery cells that were developed in-house. It will take a while, but eventually this is going to filter down into mass market vehicles. In future we’ll wonder why pickup truck designs and 12 volt systems remained unchanged for 70 years.