Ingolstadt (dpa/tmn) – Drive-by-Wire, Connectivity or User Experience – Karl-Heinz Rehkopf can only laugh about such terms. The entrepreneur from Einbeck near Göttingen sometimes sits at the wheel of a Benz Victoria from 1894, which is officially the oldest registered car in Germany.
But even if Rehkopf, high up on the trestle of his Benz, ignores technological progress, many drivers are likely to worry about the half-life of their car.
"After all, innovation cycles have shortened dramatically in recent years and decades," says Hans-Georg Marmit of the expert organization KÜS. Rarely, therefore, have new vehicles aged as quickly as they do today. In view of technical revolutions such as increasing digitalization and the electrification of the drive system, the question arises as to how old new cars can actually become today.
Statistics tell a different story, and the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) reports a rising average age for the fleet on the continent's roads. While it was 10.5 years in 2013, it has climbed to more than 11 years by 2017. But even if this trend continues, it's hard to imagine Rehkopf's great-great-grandchildren driving around Einbeck in a 2020 Mercedes 100 years from now.
Works point to better durability
But there is no reason to worry, according to the automakers and their suppliers: "An Audi in 2020 will be developed according to the same specifications for service life and durability as an Audi from the 1990s," says Audi press spokesman Udo Rügheimer, who believes that today's customers are even better prepared.
"Regardless of whether it's the castings and alloys of engines, coatings to protect against mechanical wear, or paints – whenever it comes to material quality, decades of experience lead to a continuously improved starting point," says Rügheimer.
Functional parts such as headlights are now maintenance-free thanks to LED technology, adds Rügheimer, who also attests to the greater resistance of plastics to the ravages of time. "And if something does break, Audi promises a guaranteed supply of spare parts for at least 15 years."So for the time being, at least Audi customers are on the safe side.
E-mobility also means less wear and tear
Supplier Continental is also convinced of a long half-life: "The chances are good that we will see longer lifetimes in the future when we think about privately used vehicles," says press spokesman Enno Pigge, citing several reasons for this: Electromobility ensures that wear and tear is reduced with fewer moving parts.
"Electronic platforms are increasingly based on standards that are compatible with each other, even with generational changes." And after the end of a supply capability of components, 3D printing offers the possibility for new spare parts long after the end of series production, he said.
Even external factors play into the hands of car manufacturers, says Pigge: In most cases, for example, new mobile phone standards are looked at for backward compatibility. There are also examples where the first standards were later neglected. But then new forms of adapters can provide further functionality.
The battery – the great unknown?
While the e-motor reduces wear, the battery becomes the big unknown, says KÜS spokesman Marmit. But first, VW spokesman Christian Buhlmann points out that the first generation of hybrids and e-vehicles has shown that the durability of components is comparable to that of conventional vehicles. And secondly, the car doesn't have to age along with the battery, Marmit points out: "It's not for nothing that batteries can be replaced and are therefore often offered separately from the car for leasing or hire."
Increasing connectivity is also more of an advantage than a disadvantage, says Buhlmann: Thanks to Apple Carplay or Android Auto and a direct Internet connection, the car can now and in the future benefit from new apps and functions at the same speed as the connected smartphone itself. And the electronic architectures of new vehicles are programmed in such a way that they can be updated and upgraded in some cases even via the mobile phone connection and without a visit to the workshop, it says. "This means that new functions can be implemented even years after the car has been purchased."
A car life can also be 20 years economical
Continental spokesman Pigge summarizes: "It's hardly due to the technology if a car ages prematurely: The "first life" of ten years is a cinch, and many vehicles can be operated economically for 20 years, he says.
But for him, a completely different question arises: "After 30 years, aren't the new mobility offers so much more appealing that you really still want to use a vintage car built in 2020? Maybe we will have reached the point where we will look very surprised when someone wants to drive themselves."
Even KÜS expert Marmit does not doubt the technical qualities, but still fears rapid aging. "There will be more and more features and functions, and many of them can't be installed or booked later," says the expert: "If you want to own the latest achievements, you'll have to buy a new car. But this has always been the case and has kept the industry alive until now."
For Karl-Heinz Rehkopf and his Benz Victoria, of course, this is out of the question. Together with his district administrator, he has found a much easier way to make his classic car fit for registration and thus for the future: In poor visibility or darkness, the classic car must remain in the garage, and it is not allowed to leave the yard without a red ladle to wave as a substitute for the missing turn signal.