Reason why automation can never replace handmade luxury cars

When Jaguar announced (unofficially) that they will be taking off more than 3,500 people off the pay-roll, the world was quite surprised. Jaguar, like many car companies will likely replace humans with robots which are cost-effective. Many took to social media sites like Twitter and protested(!), as that is the present day alternative to running on the streets with pitchforks and shouting abusive words at the factory gate.

I was not surprised whatsoever, because the very reason that big conglomerates invested in robotics in the early noughties is to oust humans on a timely basis. Why you ask? Well, the fact that humans ask for holidays, day offs, permissions, maternity leave and more importantly salaries, among many things can be avoided. Robots (at least the present ones) will not go on strike either. The end result is that production will increase and the bosses can keep the cash to themselves. Who wouldn’t do that?

That is why many automobile manufacturing facilities use robots for painting the vehicle because apparently, it can save a few millilitres for every car. Now, it does not make sense on the outset but with thousands of cars made every month, it will save many litres of paint and that is money saved. However, I think there is one segment in the car industry that cannot be touched by automation and that is the exotics. You might scoff at this because I had just explained how cost-effective robots are and other stuff. But bear with me on this.

I say that exotics cannot be touched by automation because humans have a tendency to pay more for things that are handmade. That is why a Rolls Royce costs many times more than a Maruti Suzuki. Further, there is the fact that automakers want to portray that their products are handmade to boost their trade advantage. Mercedes Benz puts a small plaque on the engine of their AMG models that says it was hand built by some person.

 

Now, we know Mercedes makes more than 18,000 such engines in a year and that it impossible to make so many by hand. But Mercedes persists with it. The owners too find pride in that. It is the same with Nissan (on the GTR) and Aston Martin. More over, automation can’t possibly bring in the variety that humans can. For instance, McLaren has an MSO division that will cater to the needs and tastes of an individual. Aston Martin has the ‘Q’ division and Bentley and Rolls are known for the same.

It would take endless amount of resources to develop machines that will do the custom work. But when you are said and done, what if a person turns up (and they will) and says they want the same type of material that is on their shirt, on the seat or on the dashboard? Automakers have to cater to that or otherwise, they can’t charge as much and if they don’t, they won’t stay afloat.

 

And if customisation is not an option, then there will not be million pound hypercars either and that is a ‘no no’. We need to have exotics don’t we? In what else way will the rich people spend their cash on? Supercars are a necessity to them. It is a statement and if you are rich, you need to shout it out to everybody that you are. Expensive cars just make the shouting work much easier. I’m sure machines can be tailor-made to stitch leather like humans do and possibly manufacture carbon fibre on their own. However, humans will not pay as much as they do now if they know that the parts are not made by hand.

Look at it this way, given the chance, my mum and any woman for that matter, would love to buy Kanchipuram silk sarees at the weaver’s house, where they are made, despite the fact that they will be costlier than some off the run machine made ones. That is how humans are!

Praveen Kumar S