Rant: American Auto-Makers Still Need a Clue

[Begin music: Beach Boys, “I Get Around”]

Recent projects have had me in Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC and Nashville. Suffice it to say that over the past few months I’ve rented cars on several occasions.

[Change music: Max Webster, “Battle Scar”]

Most typically I book what the rental companies call an “SCAR.” That’s their code for a “Standard Car” but I’ve come to believe that it also describes the relationship between domestic auto makers and the auto renting public…scarred.

On this particular occasion it’s but a singular item that raises my ire. Over the past quarter I’ve rented at least six cars, choosing different models each time. The only car that had a USB jack in the dash or console was a Toyota Carolla. Various GM, Ford and Chrysler products failed to provide this convenience.

Scratch that, a USB jack is more than merely convenience. With cell phone now all charged by a standard micro-USB connector a USB jack for charging a cell phone should be universal. Every car, no matter how minimally optioned should provide at least three powered USB ports.

I don’t care if said USB connectors connect to the stereo, although I’ve seen that done and it’s handy. They simply need to provide DC power.

Oh, and by the way, I know that the USB standard calls for current limiting at 500 ma. That won’t cope with things like iPhones, Blackberries and tablets. Consider these USB ports like an automotive version of the FastMac USocket. Let them provide as much as 1500 ma. That way they handle whatever device anyone wants to use.

It boggles the mind that any auto maker would install a 3.5mm aux input for the laughable factory stereo and not also provide a powered USB jack!

It can’t be a matter of cost. Surely a USB jack costs the same or less than that audio jack & associated wiring. Or worse yet, it costs less than the goofy plastic storage spaces that they build into the dashboards in some of these unfortunate vehicles.

[Change music: Time Passages by Al Stewart]

Do you feel tingly? When I started writing this post I was on the way to Nashville early on the morning of Monday, December 11th. It’s now the evening of Tuesday, December 12th. Therefore, in the blink of an eye, literally the gap between paragraphs, you’ve just travelled in time. The tingling feeling will subside over the next few minutes.

The time travel matters because in the intervening 36 hours I once again made my way to an Alamo car rental counter, whereupon I was offered a Ford Focus. Unlike most of my recent rentals this particular car had the “Sync” system developed jointly by Ford and Microsoft. While the Sync system seems nice, and worked well enough with my G2, I really didn’t explore it fully. I was, after all, working and focused on other matters.

That said, I noticed that the Focus had a USB port inside the center console. It seems that this jack, and the 3.5mm analog jack located nearby, was as aspect of the music system. It sufficed to keep the cell phone charged even as I used Google Maps to find myself to & from Arnold Air Force Base, the location of this weeks little project.

For providing that USB port in an otherwise pretty basic automobile Ford gets kudos, and release from the focus of my related ranting.