Cars Didn’t Always Look Like This! What Can Technology Learn From Motoring History?

I’m no petrol head. I potter along enjoying the view with my wife berating me for driving so slowly. I’ve only ever had one speeding ticket, and that was for 36 miles an hour in a 30. When I buy a car I kick the tyres and look under the bonnet thinking ‘ooh, nice and clean!’

That said, I am an avid watcher of Top Gear. I look forward to every new series, its a truly engaging programme – entertainment rather than pure motoring. Its a perfect way to end a weekend on a Sunday night.

A year or so ago Top Gear did a feature on the evolution of the basic layout of a car. Today if you buy a car in the US, Europe, or Asia it has essentially the same layout (although this may be mirrored). Four wheels. Gear stick in the middle. A key to start. Two or three pedals depending on manual or automatic. This layout has been beneficial for drivers, who can jump into any car and get driving, and for the profitability of motor manufacturers who have been able to design two versions (left and right hand drive) and sell them across the globe.

But cars didn’t always look like this. As you view the feature you will see that the first car in 1896 was the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. This vehicle looked very different, with tiller steering like you would get on a canal boat, and one front wheel.

In 1899 Royal Enfield, who are famously known for their motorcycles, developed a quadricycle – essentially a quad-bike which took on more of the form of today’s cars.

The design was tweaked and played with over the next 9 years, and it was in 1908 that the automobile went mass market. The Ford Model-T was released as the first affordable car for the middle classes. At the end of its production run in 1927 half the cars in the world were Model-T’s. You would imagine that a market share of that size would have finally tied down the layout of cars for ever. But market domination did not necessarily result from the best design.

As Jeremy Clarkson demonstrates in the video, in order to get going you need to depress the accelerator on the steering wheel, release the handbrake, and then press down on a heavy clutch pedal. To keep going you need to keep this heavy clutch pedal depressed, and the only way to release it is to move up into top gear – and travel at 40mph, on wooden wheels with no proper roads. Hair raising stuff!

And so despite the Model-T dominating the market, other designers went back to the drawing board, and reinvented the car. In 1916 the Cadillac Type 53 was released. The first car that had the familiar layout of today – a key start, a gear stick in the middle, and three pedals. Although the Cadillac did not become a mass-market product, it’s design was picked up across the world and was the inspiration for the Austin 7 which became one of the most popular cars produced for the British market.

What can Technology learn from Automobile history?

It is very easy for business owners to look around and think that market domination means the same thing as better design. Microsoft is everywhere. Most businesses use Microsoft Exchange. Individuals use terms like Excel when they mean spreadsheet, or Powerpoint when they mean presentation. If it is good enough for everyone else then it must be the right decision for us. But the Ford Model-T shows us that the first product to go mass market is not necessarily the best design for the long run.

[caption id="attachment_9323" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Market domination doesn\'t always mean better design"]Market domination doesn't always mean better design[/caption]

Innovative business owners should look at their own business processes first and then work back to the individual solutions – whether on-premise, or Cloud based, and make an assessment of what will help their business grow faster. Backing the market leader blindly may end up being the more risky decision.

Fast forward 20 years and you can imagine your children or grandchildren sitting in front of the television on a Sunday night watching Tech Gear, with Jeremy Clarkson junior explaining ”In the 2000′s people used to send ‘attachments’. This was were you took a copy of your sensitive data, made a copy of it, and then sent it outside of your network with no further control. I know! That is what they used to do!”

“And get this – if they wanted to have fifteen people add information into the same spreadsheet, they used to have to send it around each person, or worse still put it on a shared drive and arrange for each of them to go in one by one! Crazy!”

I hope you have enjoyed this post, and found it educational and entertaining!

Charlie Cowan inspires and enables partners at NewVoiceMedia, a Salesforce Appexchange partner routing inbound calls based on CRM data. Unusually for someone in the IT industry, Charlie holds a degree in Rural Land Management from The Royal Agricultural College. He lives and works in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, with his wife and three children.