Computing Power Replacing Horsepower in Cars

By Edward A. Sanchez | January 08, 2010
The prognostications that the V8 engine is going the way of the dinosaurs are nothing new. We've been hearing that for several years. The counterpoint has been that newer, smaller-displacement engines are producing similar levels of power with much greater efficiency.But I believe the bigger question to ask is...does anyone care? Back in the pre-digital days, automotive bragging rights were all about cubic inches, quarter mile times, horsepower, and tire-smoking potential. Now, it seems there's as much street cred with how many watts your woofer is rated, wireless music streaming, in-car video, THX surround-sound, and even in-car refrigerators. Urban and suburban congestion is not getting any better, for the most part, so straight-line performance is becoming increasingly irrelevant to many car buyers. We're already seeing a foreshadowing of this trend in Japan, where new car sales have dropped off to historic lows. Younger people are simply not as interested in cars anymore, instead opting for the latest in personal electronics. There are certainly some exceptions to this trend, as Ford's muscular new 5.0 liter Mustang vividly demonstrates. Yet, Ford is also the company leading the way with in-car electronics. The MyFord system unveiled at this year's Consumer Electronics Show brings an unprecedented level of tech integration, convenience, and user interface sophistication. Yet in another example of horsepower taking a back seat to gigabytes, the tachometer, rather than a prominent, large round dial, is now just a 2-inch, driver-selectable widget, among many.
High-dollar, niche exotics like the Tesla Roadster demonstrate that the future isn't completely bleak when it comes to performance cars. But who among us can afford a $100,000+ car? It seems like the trend for mass-market vehicles is now decidedly tilting in the direction of GB and MPG, rather than HP. Hopefully there will still be enough options left for those of us that appreciate the thrill of the driving experience, rather than the razzle-dazzle of in-cabin gizmos.