THE automotive cliché of using the word appliance to describe a dull car designed for the disinterested driver has taken a surprise turn with the arrival of an autonomous electric concept car from refrigeration company Mitsubishi Electric, which shortly followed the announcement by vacuum cleaner brand Dyson that it was developing a battery-powered vehicle.
Perhaps Dyson and Mitsubishi Electric are emboldened by the fact Silicon Valley company Tesla, with no prior automotive experience, is doing a pretty good job of making cars (if not making money).
Mitsubishi Electric already produces a number of components for electric vehicles and systems to enable autonomous driving. No doubt it has observed the mess its sister company Mitsubishi Motors made of every model it has released for at least the past 10 years and thought, “we can do better”.
Dyson, having successfully diversified into desk fans and hand dryers for public lavatories before setting groundbreaking new standards in terms of what people are prepared to pay for a hair dryer, is now ready to hit the road. Hopefully its electric vehicle battery lasts longer than that of its cordless vacuums.
In the past 12 months, Mitsubishi Motors has been absorbed into the Renault-Nissan Alliance and PSA, the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen, has taken Opel and Vauxhall off the hands of General Motors. In recent memory Chrysler became part of Fiat, meaning Fiat platforms can be found beneath products from all of the Detroit Big Three carmakers.
The story is similar with engines. On our roads are Fords and BMWs with diesel engines made by PSA. Some Mercedes-Benz models have Renault engines and until recently many a four-cylinder Land Rover or Jaguar shared its EcoBoost engine with the handful of four-pot Ford Falcons that were sold. Conversely, Holden’s Port Melbourne engine plant supplied V6 powerplants to Alfa Romeo, Saab and Cadillac to name a few. You can no doubt think of plenty more examples.
This age of industry consolidation, of platform and technology sharing could result in a return to coachbuilding.
Volkswagen’s all-electric MEB platform featured on Page 6 is described as a ‘skateboard’. It is essentially a rolling chassis to which almost any vehicle body can be attached.
Numerous industry heavyweights have acknowledged that the rise of electrification will make it harder to differentiate between car brands in terms of character and that it will be down to the calibration of various components to deliver a unique feel.
Skateboard platforms containing the drivetrain, autonomous driving capability and crash structures could be produced by a few big players and used to underpin all manner of vehicles from all kinds of brands.
It would then be a race to determine who could come up with the best styling, cabin comfort or calibration.
Computers are much the same. The PC is essentially a set of standards around which components are designed and produced in order to run Windows or some other third-party operating system. Apart from price, the shape and colour of the box, plus perhaps the particular mix of components and software thrown in is what sets them apart.
Of course, there will always be the likes of Apple that want to control the whole process and create their own operating system to run on bespoke hardware.
Like Apple, it will probably be the more expensive players such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz that go down this path.
Even then, many components in an iMac or MacBook are interchangeable with a PC, just as PSA and Renault engines have been used by the two German brands.
There could well come the day when cars based on skateboards by Dyson and Mitsubishi Electric are common on our roads.
How will they be differentiated? The Dysons will suck and the Mitsubishis will be cool.