Where have all the new cars gone?

VOLKSWAGEN’S Golf MkVI is a delight.

Great to drive, obsessively built and more appealingly styled than first appearances reveal, it’s every inch a real Golf.

Volkswagen_golf_6But, it’s not all new. Yes, it was ‘new’, last year. But, it wasn’t really. Instead, it was a heavily revised version of the MkV Golf. Same roof, same door apertures, same platform.

Yes indeed – the same underpinnings that also live in the Audi A3, the Skoda Octavia, the SEAT Leon, the Volkswagen Jetta, the Audi TT, the… well, you get the idea.

Volkswagen’s policy of sharing the bits you can’t see across brands is long-established.

But, sharing bits across model generations? Saving even more cash? Well, it’s little short of an economist’s panacea.

And it’s not just VW that’s at it. Fiat based the 500 on Panda bits that were introduced in 2003 – then Ford bought into the project, and launched the 2008 ‘all new’ Ka on the same platform. Jaguar’s brilliant XF? Why, a revised version of the soapy S-Type.

Aston Martin uses the same basic underpinnings for virtually everything it builds, Jaguar Land Rover has a policy of sharing bits across all vehicle lines, Porsche can’t be too hard on Wiedeking after he gave them the 996 underpinnings that are still being stretched and squeezed today… see what I mean?

And the result of all this is… cars better than they’ve ever been. No longer do makers have to chuck away all that went before and start again – because modern cars have reached a plateau of ability. They’re so good to start with, the great leaps of improvement are not there to be made. And the huge leaps in currently-applicable technology have all been discovered.

I reckon we’ll see more of this. How can Ford improve on the current Focus? Well, by making it that bit better. It doesn’t need to be any bigger – so, with the next one, why not just polish what’s there, rather than throwing billions into something all-new?

Volkswagen’s thinking with the Golf VI was to make something as good as the MkV, that could be built more cheaply. Thanks to the inherent ability of engineers to always improve, it’s actually got something that’s considerably better. All bits have been honed, everything polished. If it’s good enough to start with – and all new cars are – there’s no end to what the mechanical wizards in car firms can do to make it better.

renault_z_e_conceptWhich means today’s cars are, I reckon, pretty much fixed in time. So that means they’ll be made, ad infintum? Absolutely not. The next big change will come in architecture. Cars will, in time, be lighter, cheaper to build, simpler, more recyclable, all of that futuristic stuff.

To achieve this, we need an entirely different type of car. This is where the thinking will be thrown out and the clean sheets begun. It will take a huge amount of cash, and is fraught with risks. But, while car firms get their heads around it, the process of perfecting today’s machines should ensure cars in the near-future will continue to be the best, ever.

And, given how new technology is rarely perfect first time, does this mean the cars of the next few years could even mark a high point, not to be seen again for several decades?

If so, I’ll certainly it while I can…