Continuing a brief series on change…
What does the future hold for gearheads? Two things immediately come to mind—EVs and self-driving technology. Both of which tend to rub gearheads like us the wrong way, but I worry some of us are at risk of missing out.
Why do we hate EVs?
Most legitimate concerns revolve around range anxiety and the economical mindset that comes with it. Vehicles represent freedom. Being limited to less than 200 miles without needing an overnight charge represents a severe reduction in the freedom associated with vehicle ownership.
Unless you consider the potential to one day fuel your vehicle with the sun or wind. Fuel prices will only continue to rise in coming years. Whether because capitalism, shrinking supply, or—thanks to an ever-increasing number of EVs on the road no longer needing fuel—shrinking demand.
They’re also a lot like kitchen appliances. For the most part, EVs are like slightly more aerodynamic dishwashers. Stainless materials, lots of clever buttons and lights, but as much as you might want a reliable Maytag in your kitchen, it’s not the kind of brand you want to daily drive.
(Tesla Model S owners: You know I’m not talking about YOUR cars. Lulz.)
Why do we hate self-driving cars?
As a parent to a 5-year old who hasn’t taken an afternoon nap in at least two, almost three years—unless we’re driving somewhere—let me just say I WISH I had a self-driving car. Kids are hard work.
There’s a special kind of regret that comes from being dead tired, wrapping up a busy day of errands, knowing the little one is getting a power nap, and you’re headed right out back to the swingset when you get home.
If I could look in the rearview, see the kid passing out, and say something like, “Okay, Google. One lap around the valley on the 101 Loop, smooth, economy mode, please.” Then lean the seat back and get a nap of my own, I’d be so down.
Or if, instead of spending two hours a day grinding it out in stupid, we-should-all-be-carpooling rush hour traffic, I could spend that time stretched out in the back seat, laptop open, working on GBXM, or maybe even recording podcast episodes, that would be great.
Are you threatening me?
Methinks we feel our way of life threatened a bit by all this tech. You can’t drive as far. Maybe you can’t drive at all. That’s a very real possibility.
What happens when self-driving tech means such a reduction in traffic collisions that insurers have to drastically reduce premiums on self-driving cars and begin increasing them on older, “less safe” vehicles? Or when fuel gets harder to find because it’s not as profitable as it once was, so most convenience stores stop installing pumps?
We’re already hearing stories of cities and states missing the gas tax revenues so much they’re piloting per-mile use taxes for vehicle owners at registration time. It’s not hard to find plans already in play designed to phase out internal combustion engines—and gearheads—either.
It’s not hard to see this electric boogaloo future as a threat to our very existence. They’re trying to get rid of the machines we love. They’re working to prevent us from using them. That’s bullshit!
TP for your bunghole
By now, we’ve all heard about the fate of the buggy whip maker. Henry Ford started mass producing cars (that his employees could actually afford to buy) and that was the end of the horse and buggy.
Or was it?
How long since you’ve seen a horse and carriage? I bet at least within the last year. Somebody had to make that thing. Somebody has to fix and maintain it. How easy do you think it is to find someone who not only knows how to work on carriages, but knows how to do it right? How do you think that super specialist work is priced compared to routine maintenance on your daily driver?
Tipping the point of this article early—how easily could that specialist be replaced today?
Radio Control Car Action
A lot of us were into RC when we were younger. A lot of us still are. (Some of us are still struggling with keeping or selling our old Tamiya King Cab, RC-10, and MkI RS4.) We loved the shit out of those things. I can still see the yellow King Cab on the cover of Radio Control Car Action back in 1990 that inspired me to get my first summer job.
If you never had a true, enthusiast grade RC vehicle, you really missed out. You build them from the ground up. Hard anodized parts bolted to titanium and graphite with stainless hardware. Almost infinite gearing and handling options. And you could double the power with a simple battery pack and motor upgrade.
Making it a little bit easier
We still love our RC cars, but we didn’t experience them from the driver’s seat. Sure, we held the wheel and mashed the throttle, but we weren’t looking out through the windshield as we chased the dog across the front yard and launched over anything we could find halfway resembling a ramp.
And those of us who played before the days of brushless motors and LiPo batteries are all too familiar with range anxiety, as we remember a “good” setup was a 15-minute fast charger and two battery packs because you were lucky if you got 10 minutes out of a fully charged pack.
Wouldn’t it be easier still?
Today we’re all grown up. We can remove, rebuild, and install engines. We can bolt up turbochargers for more power. We can change out transmissions and gearing and all manner of driveline components to make more power.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, wouldn’t it be easier to just swap out a motor if it didn’t have a dozen oil and coolant hoses, 42 electrical connections, and 195 vacuum lines? What if simply half a dozen big-ass, 21mm nuts held the motor to the bell housing, and two more connected the power and ground?
What if, if we wanted more power, we simply added capacity to the battery pack like we used to with our RC cars? Yeah, I know it’s a bit more complicated than soldering in another sub-C NiCd and shrink wrapping the pack, but you know what I mean. What if upgrading our motor controller was as easy as replacing out your old Tekin ESC for the new hotness from Novak?
Same as it ever was
Today, in 2018, you can turn pretty much any conventional car into an absolute beast of an EV for about US$15,000. I’m talking sub-5-second 0-60, 200mph top speed, and/or 200-mile range. If they can do this to an old Mustang, you can do it to your car.
That’s pretty damn cool. And you know what? The people building custom EVs today are gearheads just like us. They crave performance, power, speed.
You think they WANT to build amazing machines they can only drive for 10 minutes (or 10 miles) at a time?
These folks are building 9-second cars:
Mitsubishi’s MiEV Evo III dominated Pike’s Peak—back in 2014.
The high performance crowd is already getting in on the EV scene. It’s the future. People are figuring out how to make ridiculous power. And they’re working on the battery tech to deliver that power for more and more miles.
This isn’t an EV sales pitch, though.
The point I’m trying to make is, as gearheads, we’re closer to the tech than most people. We understand the systems being converted, and the impact adding all that new hardware to a chassis has on performance and handling and more.
We’ve got to stop seeing new tech as a threat. We’ve got to start seeing it as opportunity. EV and self-driving tech is going to take a lot of internal combustion machines off the road—but mostly because we’re just going to stop buying new ones.
We’re still at least 100 years away from any kind of Red Barchetta motoring dystopia. We should be getting to know this new tech. We should be BENEFITING from it.
When fuel injection went mainstream, the carburetor performance shops on every street corner faded away. And you know what, most of us today could give a shit. Fuel injection is better. It’s more reliable. It’s more precise. And now that direct injection is becoming the norm, it’s the factory fuel system every forced induction owner dreamed of.
The future is going electric. And it’s going to demand gearheads who understand how vehicles work.
For all its complexities, it’s going to make modifying our vehicles easier—cleaner, even. It’s going to make road trips with friends more fun, too, since we’ll be able to spend those hours in the car paying attention to friends instead of the road ahead.
And I’m going to go out on a limb here today and say it’s going to create a whole new generation of gearheads like us, only they’re going to know as much about brushless DC motors, speed controls, and battery packs as we do about pistons, fuel injection, and ethanol.
Today’s future tech
If you want to write all this future tech off, feel free to stick your head back in the sand. But if you take pride in being ahead of the curve, seeing what’s next, and being ready to jump on opportunity, these are those new markets ripe for the picking.
Let me put it another way. How many performance shops do you know? 10? 20? Now, how many EV performance shops do you know of? How many of the companies supporting the self-driving vehicles industry are in your 401k or investment portfolio?
It’s kinda like investing in gold. By the time you started seeing people in costumes on street corner with giant, “WE BUY GOLD” signs, the people who were going to make money selling gold had done so and moved on long ago.
Look. Even if you hate everything about it, if you know it’s coming, wouldn’t you like to cash in on it some way? You know what I mean?
Evolution vs extinction
The way I see it, there’s two schools of thought, here—evolution or extinction.
We can choose to evolve with the technology, making sure our voices—the voice of the gearhead, the motoring enthusiast—is heard and plays a role in the advancement, application, and regulation of these exciting new technologies.
We can choose to adopt a more nuanced, specialist approach and dive deep into the existing tech we love right now. We can take steps to ensure that, when 99% of the shops selling or servicing the 21st century version of the horse and carriage cash out, we are the 1% who remain viable because we are true experts with the deep knowledge to become THE place those who continue driving the old, analog machines can count on to help keep their prized possessions operational.
(Someone had to preserve that red Barchetta.)
Or we can go the way of the belligerent buggy whip maker or carburetor tuner. We can stick our heads in the sand. We can take our ball and go home. We can be the clueless idiots on Instagram telling Mitsubishi their entire global empire is going down in flames because they retired the DSM and EVO, two cars which even at their peak, probably represented less than 3% of MMC’s global unit sales.
(I don’t care. You’re wrong. And you look like an idiot every time you do it.)
I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum.
Our world is changing every day. Gearbox Magazine is for gearheads like us who keep one eye on the future and the other on the rearview mirror at all times. We need to learn from the past so we can take full advantage of the future.
For the record, Gearbox Magazine is NOT turning into an EV-only magazine. What we ARE turning into, though, is a magazine for gearheads who want more from life than mods and motorsport. We’re here for the FUTURE of motoring—to ensure GEARHEADS LIKE US continue to get ahead in life because race car.
There will come a time when parts are no longer easy to find for your vehicle—if they’re available at all. There will come a time when the only way your car will run again is if you disassemble and re-engineer a sensor or learn how to fabricate what you need.
Every setback your platform of choice faces or ever will face is an opportunity for you to be the one who steps in and solves that problem for everyone else. If you think about it, this is pretty much how every performance shop or brand you know today got their start.
Build a better mousetrap.
Like I said last week, our primary audience moving forward is gearheads like us who pretty much know how to do everything, but want something more. Making your car faster or your truck tougher is immeasurably rewarding—but how do we get more time and money to do that stuff more often?
Every problem is an opportunity. Let’s capitalize on those opportunities by learning from people who have seized opportunities for themselves and modified their lives.
That’s what I’m after. Who’s with me? Are you ready to build the future? Let’s figure it out.