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July 8th, 2006

Bye Bye Crank Windows

This past week Honda announced that all of its models would have power windows. They say it’s not even a luxury anymore.

And let me tell you, I think it’s a great idea – with one caveat.

When shopping for a car, it’s pretty standard to want power goodies. I only know one person who doesn’t like the power stuff (doesn’t need it) and that’s my mom. Her car has crank windows, manual locks, and manual mirrors. About the only automatic thing in her car is the transmission.

Why? She feels it’s less that can break or go wrong – and you know, it’s true.

But, the convenience is pretty great. I have a hard time imagining having manual stuff on my car anymore. Do you?

Posted in Cars

Marcus Mackey October 7, 2006, 1:21 am

As time has gone on… the cost of developing power windows and the complexity of the tech has come to the point where it’s almost impractical to keep the tooling around to produce the once significantly cheaper manual mechanisms, and on top of that manual window mechanisms haven’t advanced any in tech while power windows have gotten express down and window download “override” tech over the years.

I once thought it’d be kind of cool to make a “ratcheting” manual window that rather than requiring you to row, row, row over and over in big huge sweeping turns… it’d only go a short travel down (i.e. quarter turn) and perhaps be chain driven and spring-actuated. It never happened though and the old tech has remained stagnant with little innovation exerted. It was a system that worked… but… it doesn’t work very well on the convenience front (esp. for anyone that has had to use a tollway with power windows) and requires considerably more work than is practical. For the reliability argument… it might be more reliable (arguable, both units break, both can take considerable effort to fix after broken, both cost $ to fix), but it’s certainly 1,000x’s less practical on a daily basis. User experience is definitely worth something, and I think it’s more than well worth the potential pitfalls down the road. If we were worried about the added tech potentially breaking down and being that much of an issue, we’d all likely forgone the automobile for horses, which are far less mechanical, and don’t have mechanics charging you $80 an hour. 😉

The reality in Honda’s decision might not be that there’s not a market for manual windows, but that manual window tech has hit a stage in the desirability quotient and the per unit mfg. process costs that it’s as expensive or more expensive as just opting for power only across the board. Most people that buy a car want power windows and locks (I would say so by a rather large margin; my first car had manual windows, and my dad’s Jeep does… and I would never buy another car without power windows/locks again), and since most opt-in, there are fewer of the manual “die hards” to warrant producing or buying the mechanisms for. When you consider the different door panel pieces involved, the different pieces of the internal mechanism, the ID that goes into making updated crank handles and knobs to match the modern interior decor… you’re looking at added costs to a unit that’s favored by a smaller percent. It’s cheaper for Honda to just drop the tooling/tech and hope they stick around. If they remain a highly reliable auto manufacturer, this little caveat is doubtful to be a niggling concern in their buying process.

Not to mention in this day and age… with cars that have headlights that automatically turn off after x amount of time becoming more and more prevalent, ABS, traction control, more airbags than wheels and tires… we’re moving from many parts being “options” to becoming standard features to sweeten the deal, technologies that were luxury car only at a point in time. With most cars coming with AM/FM CD players when cassette players or even basic AM or AM/FM radios were options years ago… time marches on. Honda’s higher tech mechanisms traditionally have had great reliability records. If the costs are negligible or if even favoring power, I think it’s a no-brainer to drop it in as standard and move on.

Besides… at some point you have to embrace and extend. I know of few people that cling to the pen and paper when having to put out a 25 page paper in final draft, much less break out the old Olivetti typewriter to get an important memo typed up for a 3 o’clock meeting. Like it or not, there comes a time to embrace technology and move on. While there is some truth to the complexity issues, there’s also the reality that as time goes on… the processes behind the tech are streamlined and are as reliable or more reliable than the antiquated tech which can jump track just as easily after the first encounter with 20 degree weather and a nice iced window (as I recall my mom’s old Buick encountered). After a few thousand hours trying to build the better mouse trap, with a few million different angles expelled on providing a reliable means, and advancing the tech further with more features… sooner or later, the more productive and convenient tech will win.

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