Electric Kei Cars, Supercar Sharing, and a Bunch of Other Unlikely Christmas Wishes

Our modest list of car wishes for Christmas.

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I have a long personal history of not getting what I want for Christmas. As a teenager, I would present my parents every year with a long and detailed list of everything I needed for my BMX bikes. They, in turn, would give me four sweaters and a board game. I’m not bitter. Not really. Not much.

There’s no reason to think that the following Christmas list, addressed to everybody from the DOT to the tire manufacturers, will be any more successful. Still, you can’t get the sale if you don’t ask for it. Without further ado, then:

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Mazda

Electric Autozams. There are a lot of theories floating around out there to explain why electric vehicles have been slow to gain marketplace acceptance, but most of them miss a fairly obvious point: every electric car on the market priced below the Tesla Model S looks like something invented by, and for, the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Nobody wants to be seen in a suppository-shaped penalty boxlet. Period.

What if electric cars were available in all sorts of amusing and exciting form factors, like the mini-gullwing shape of the Autozam AZ-1? There’s no reason that the government couldn’t relax some of the onerous safety-related requirements for explicitly short-distance electric cars. They’re already doing it for the so-called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, which all look like golf carts with thyroid issues. Might as well permit a bunch of tiny sporting cars that just happen to be powered by batteries. What’s the worst that could happen? Somebody might actually want to buy one?

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The Mazda MX-8. This one’s simple in concept, if not in execution. Once upon a time, the NC-generation MX-5 was strongly related to the fabulous but star-crossed RX-8. Let’s do the time warp again, making a four-seater, suicide-door MX-8. Why MX-8 and not RX-8? ‘Cause this car would just have the boosted 250-horse four-cylinder from the CX-9. No reason it couldn’t weigh slightly under three thousand pounds. Make it look as JDM-concept-ish as possible, sell it for $34,995. There’s still a market for a Japanese ponycar.

Máté Petrány / Road&Track
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A smaller Porsche platform. There’s a lot to be said about the general competence of the current 718 Boxster and Cayman, and Porsche has certainly managed to hold the line on curb weight, but these are still awfully wide, bulky cars. We always hear about how the Cayenne and Macan “saved Porsche sports cars.” If that’s the case, then surely there’s enough cash in the till to develop a product aimed at entry-level customers. Twenty years ago, you could have argued that going back to that 914/924 market would have hurt the brand’s prestige. That was before all the soccer moms and dads on your block started driving automatic-transmission Macans. I think the brand will survive an affordable sports car.

More short runs and special editions. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about guitar makers or athletic-shoe companies or even the nice people at SILCA, who build bicycle pumps right here in the United States of America. Pretty much every enthusiast-oriented manufacturer nowadays takes advantage of the greater customer connection offered by the Internet to come up with special editions, short runs, and other fan-focused variations. In that respect, they are decades behind the automakers, who used to turn out short-term special editions on a regular basis. Let’s bring ‘em back. Special colors, oddball equipment combinations, available only to those who are in the know and only by pre-order. Scion had some success with their “Release” vehicles, and Chrysler has done a variety of unique-color RAM trucks over the past years. Other manufacturers could do the same.

200-treadwear tires… with no tread. Why does a Dunlop Direzza Star Spec or Bridgestone RE-71 have tread cut into the surface when ninety percent of the applicable use cases involve closed courses and sunny days? The first tire maker to create a “slick” tire that lasts like a Direzza instead of like a Hoosier R7 is going to need a Brinks truck for all the cash they’ll make. Minor bonus: it will make for five years’ worth of entertaining arguments among SCCA autocrossers.

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Mercedes-Benz

A year with no colorless S-Classes. Just for one year, Mercedes-Benz should refuse to supply a new S-Class of any kind in black, grey, silver, or white. Instead, there should be a whole palette of retro colors, from the brown of Jean Reno’s 450SEL 6.9 in “Ronin” to the mile-deep desert tan that we all associate with the W123 300D, with a cavalcade of greens, reds, and blues in the mix as well. Think of it as a highway beautification project ranging from Dubai to Denver. Everybody whose personal narcissism and fun allergies prevent them from considering anything but a basic black S550 can wait twelve months, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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Cloth, cloth, cloth. Please let me have something more expensive or powerful than a base Kia Rio without being forced to take plastic-slathered, formaldehyde-soaked “leather” that wouldn’t make the grade for the sole of a proper dress shoe. Nobody wants that stuff. It’s the first thing to fall apart in any new car and the only difference between it and vinyl upholstery is that you can clean vinyl upholstery without worrying about accidentally bleaching it. It’s fine for a Jaguar to have a leather interior. It’s okay for a Rolls-Royce to have a leather interior. It’s not required in a Camry or an F-150. I’ll pay real money for a better grade of cloth.

Bring back the DIN. There is absolutely no reason that the stereo of a modern car cannot be modularized and replaceable the way it was for the first four decades of in-car entertainment. There is no reason that removing the stereo from your car should cause it to “throw codes” or even fail to start. Let’s come up with a standard stereo interface again. That way, those of us who want to spend real money on a car stereo can do so in the aftermarket, where we can actually have what we want. You shouldn’t have to buy the top trim level of a car to get the good stereo. The Venn diagram of audiophiles and top-trim fanatics is very close to resembling a pair of binoculars. Cut it out. Go back to the DIN standard. Nobody will die.

There’s more I could put on the list, much of it having to do with making Ford’s “Voodoo” V-8 fit into the Lincoln Continental, but there’s such a thing as knowing when to quit. In the meantime, think of the above list as a little push… towards better, more customer-focused products. Chances are that the automakers will respond with more CUVs, which are like the unwanted Christmas sweaters of vehicles. But you can’t get the sale if you don’t ask.

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