As 2017 continues, more and more carmakers are under increasing pressure to explain, defend, or apologize for inappropriate behavior dating back years — or even decades.
Many carbuyers have been pleased to see elite, luxury features trickle down into mainstream vehicles in recent years, but critics are asking about the hidden costs of such feature encroachment. Heated steering wheels, heated & cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, and predictive braking were once confined to the realm of $100k+ luxury cars, but today are available in many more affordable vehicles.
The Automotive Technology Institute (ATI) calls this proliferation “Feature Creep,” a term that has been used internally around the automotive industry since the early 2000s, according to the Washington Post. Leaked memos from Subaru, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and others make frequent reference to “Creeping” in the context of adding more luxury touches to their vehicles. People in charge of interior electronics and ergonomics are often simply referred to as “Feature Creeps.”
Many high-profile attorneys have made recent public statements claiming that Feature Creep violates people’s fundamental rights. “If you look at how a car seat holds you in place, the situation is ripe for malfeasance,” observes Mike Johnson of the National Association for the Advancement of Drivers, or NAAD. “This is not to say that drivers are ‘asking for it’ because they put their buttocks in a soft, supple, perforated leather seat. The car still has to make the next move. There is no room for blaming the victim here.”
The auto industry defends that its customers still have to make the choice to engage a heating or massaging feature. Honda, however, refused to comment on pending litigation from over 20 different women who say the Accord’s automatic seatbelts grabbed their breasts countless times in the late 1980s before the feature was discontinued. They also claim that if they didn’t submit to the car’s wishes, the device would hit them in the head in retaliation.
One more recent, high-profile case pending involves a BenzWelt forum member who identified himself online only as “Louis CLK.” The man claims his Mercedes coupe both heated and massaged his buttocks and lower back more than 150 times from 2007-2009. “The salesman touted these as luxurious features and I believed it. I park outside, so these cold Chicago winters just wore me down to the point where I just sort of expected it,” he posted online. “I was such a Mercedes fan, I didn’t think I could say anything. Daimler has some deep pockets and there’s no way I’d win. They would just tell me they were doing me a favor, making me comfortable. They made some idiotic statement about it, but never even really apologized.”
Another case garnering great attention is that of a high-profile Gadsden, Alabama, car customization shop has been accused by at least five different customers of overcharging for pinstriping in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Founder Ray Lessman insists the allegations are untrue and wonders why his customers waited 40 years to complain, just in time for a major expansion for the company. “Look, I close out my books at the end of the year and I don’t keep much warranty reserve past the two-year mark,” Mr. Lessman defends. “If these people had a problem with what I did, why didn’t they say something back then? I’m pretty sure there’s a statute of limitations on car customization complaints. Just ask Hennessey.”
President Trump followed up on Lessman’s remarks by defending him in a series of tweets, the latest of which states “I used to not like Lessman but now I like him BFF and his pinstriping is amazing, just the best, amazing really. It just grabs you by the Medulla Oblongata.”