NICK BUNKLEY

In the computer age, it's time to analog-off

Automotive News | April 5, 2013 - 3:04 pm EST

My 2-year-old son recently started asking about the clock hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

He always just liked the train on it, but now he has realized that the numbers around it somehow tell Mama and Dada what time it is (usually, "past your bedtime"). So I told him to look at whatever number the little hand is pointing to, and we'll worry about the other hand later, after I can figure out how to explain that "3" is pronounced "fifteen."

What does learning how to tell time have to do with cars? Ideally, nothing, because analog clocks have no reason to be in cars anymore.

Unfortunately, they seem to be showing up in more and more models lately, wasting valuable dashboard real-estate in the name of "sophistication" or "tradition."

What else is on the way? Hand-stitched leather airbags? A roaring back-seat fireplace? MyFord Rotary Dial? (Just wait until Consumer Reports gets its hands on that.)

I can't help but roll my eyes when getting into the latest horseless carriage in the year two-aught-thirteen and seeing a huge analog clock.

Digital clocks are cheaper, because they can just be part of whatever screen or display is already in the dashboard, whereas an analog clock is a separate component that has to be installed and can one day need repairs.

They're also safer, because interpreting an analog clock diverts a driver's attention for longer than a digital readout. Only a split second longer, sure, but split seconds count when driving.

I recently drove a Mercedes E350 that had an analog clock in the instrument cluster, taking up space that would be better devoted to telling the driver something useful about the operation of the car, like the other gauges around it. On top of that, there was a digital clock on the screen in the center of the dashboard. And then, for some reason, there was an option to use that screen to display another large analog clock.

Do I really need three simultaneous reminders that I'm running late for work?

Obviously, if the style of clock is the biggest nitpick about a car, that's pretty good over all. (I do have more complaints about the E350, like how the stalk that controls the turn signals and windshield wipers is so perfectly hidden that I kept accidentally pulling on the cruise-control stalk whenever I was changing lanes or trying to see in the rain.)

But we live in a digital age, filled with digital photos, digital TV and digital music. An analog clock on a dash doesn't look fancy -- it looks old-fashioned. If carmakers are trying to promote a high-tech image for their luxury brands, they need to get with the times on how to tell drivers the time.

Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.

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