Where to Next, Siri?

Take two American cars from two different eras: a mid-30’s Chevrolet Suburban, and a mid-80’s Chevrolet Suburban. At first glance, they appear to be completely different, but in reality they are not. Now realize that there is a 50 year gap between these two vehicles, so it’s quite hard to imagine that they could be at all similar. But think about this: take that same 1980’s Suburban, and compare it to a brand-new Suburban which is only 30 years apart. There’s no way that this vehicle has become more advanced in less time. But in reality, cars have changed more in the last 30 years than they ever have before.

chevrolet_suburban_361935 Suburban 1985 suburban1985 Suburban

2015-Chevrolet-Suburban-Texas-Edition-front2015 Suburban

I’m using the Chevrolet Suburban for a good reason. Motor-trend recently looked back at the longest running productions vehicles, and found that “The Suburban is undisputed as the oldest surviving nameplate in the U.S., dating back to 1935. The first Suburbans were essentially station wagons built on truck frames. In 1955, the Suburban name was also used on a GMC truck called the two-door Suburban Carrier. The Suburban is now in its 12th generation and is among the largest passenger vehicles on the road” (motortrend.com). Knowing this, it is very interesting to see how this vehicle has evolved over the last 80 years.

When the Suburban was released in 1935, it was a fairly large vehicle, could carry a lot of people, and could be used to haul all of their junk as well. Mechanically, it had a carbureted 6 cylinder engine, was rear wheel drive, and used leaf springs for suspension. Also, it had a body that was bolted onto the frame (body-on-frame design). There were not any safety features such as roll-over protection, seatbelts, or airbags, and don’t even think about emissions controls. Now, fast forward 50 years to 1985, and even though the suburban had grown a little bit, it was still carbureted, but it had a V8 now. (Granted, that V8 was designed in the 60’s). Safety features were still not the greatest; although it had seatbelts now, there were still no airbags, and roll-over protection was still a pipe-dream. Emissions controls didn’t do much and were rudimental, and it was still rear wheel drive just like its grandpa from 1935. So the biggest change in 50 years was…….size. Yes, there were some technological advances such as a radio, A/C, and power steering, but in all honesty, Chevrolet didn’t change much. There was no need to since there were no regulations.

Now look at the 1985 suburban and its 2015 counterpart. They look similar, and can both carry lots of people and things, but the 2015 is eons ahead in technology. Engines are now fuel-injected, emissions controls make it cleaner than many 1970’s economy cars, and you could roll over a modern Suburban and likely walk away from the crash. Infotainment systems are pretty much standard equipment, and just about every aspect of the modern Suburban is computer controlled; even the gas petal, which is connected to the engine by a wire sending a signal to tell the engine “hey, I want more power.” The new environmental and safety regulations of the 1970’s and 1980’s forced American car producers to completely redesign their vehicles, and it is quite easy to see with the evolution of the Chevy Suburban. These regulations have created a car that provides a much cleaner, safer, and reliable experience for their drivers.

The question now arises of what the future holds for automobiles. Not only are many modern cars computer controlled, but the technology is present to have cars drive themselves! Is it possible for humans to never have to drive again? It is certainly possible, and with the rise of services such as Uber, many people are not investing in cars anymore.  Automakers are taking note of this, and they are trying to design cars that are attractive to people that would never imagine owning one. Along with consumer preferences, the EPA’s emissions regulations are constantly getting stricter, forcing engineers to manufacture engines that are more efficient than ever before. Right along the emissions regulations are safety standards that continue to increase, and cars that continue to get safer. In another 30 years, will the Chevrolet Suburban be driving itself? Will it be electric? Nobody really knows where things will go, but the auto industry has done some pretty incredible things before, so the sky is the limit for where they will go.






15 Vehicles With the Longest Running Nameplates

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