The tech-upgradable car: would customers pay for hardware they can’t see?

Faster processors, more Ram, better chips: supercharging the in-car tech experience seems like a logical extension of the upgrades brands offer in other areas. But would customers pay for it?

I’m sat in a dark car park, jabbing away at the slick upper screen of a Range Rover Velar. It’s late at night and I’m tired and furiously trying to punch an address into the sat nav, and the system’s lag means it’s not keeping up with how fast I’m trying to type. I make a mistake, but it doesn’t register at first, and then the street name isn’t recognised by the system because of my typo. I curse. The system in the Velar is visually quite stunning. But cost realities mean that the processor speed and amount of RAM the system is running, is not as fast as I’d like. A faster chip, and 8GB more RAM? They’d bring the Velar’s screen right up to the speed I desire it to run at, and virtually eliminate lag.

And this experience — which is pretty much typical of any modern car (we’re not singling out Range Rover) — got me thinking. Why can’t I already choose just such an upgrade? Why can’t we upgrade our in-car tech hardware in the way we do an engine, or alloys?

With consumers increasingly seeking to buy cars with the latest, and best, in-car technology, it’s hard to understand why the optional upgrade spend hasn’t made its way to the realm of tech hardware. Yes — there’s currently the option to go for a bigger screen, or to transform the gauge pack into a TFT slab in many of the latest models, especially from premium brands. But this is stuff that consumers can see — there is an obvious, aesthetic impact to spending the extra cash.

Maybe offering tech hardware upgrades, independent of a bigger, more pixel dense screen would offer a level of choice complexity that OEMs deem would confuse customers. Maybe dealers stuck in a paradigm of horsepower and bigger alloys would struggle to sell the benefits. But in the context of those last two points, why isn’t the automotive industry offering the opportunity to supercharge your in-car tech?

Research increasingly suggests that many non-enthusiast consumers don’t really care what’s under the hood. And yet for years consumers have been happily sold on the idea of upgrading to the 2.0, from the 1.8. It’s similar when it comes to trim levels or grades. Where once you signified your arrival as the sales rep that had made it, by being allowed to specific the GLS grade, over your lesser colleagues with their L or GL, today BMW, Mercedes and Audi get consumers to part with extra cash in the form of the big-wheeled, black-gloss trimmed M-Sport, AMG-Line and S-Line versions of their regular models.

But most consumers today own their first, maybe second car whose interface is heavily driven via screens. As they begin to consider their next new car, they’ll know they want something with tech that’s bigger, brighter – but above all — faster and smarter.

Just because a faster chipset isn’t something they can immediately see, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be of interest, especially if the benefits are clearly communicated. Consumers are already accustomed to speccing laptops, phones and tablets with more memory, more RAM, faster chips. When I bought the Mac I’m writing this on, I paid extra to max out the Ram, and upgrade the processor chip. And every day, I’m grateful I did — even though I can’t ‘see’ that extra £350 I spent to do so. Why can’t cars be the same?

posted by Joe Simpson


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