字幕表 動画を再生する 英語字幕をプリント The classic American car, big engines, fins on the back, the occasional set of suicide doors and, of course, bench seats. The front bench seat was once a standard feature of automobiles, especially American ones, and for older generations, it brings back memories of being crammed in the front of a car between parents and siblings or cuddling up with someone on a date, perhaps at a drive in movie. But like so many other features of yesterday's cars, front bench seats have been replaced with bucket seats and central consoles with parking brakes, shifters, storage compartments, and cup holders. Bench seats were cheap to make, easy to climb into, and roomy to sit in. But Americans turned away from them over time, and at least mostly they went the way of fancy hood ornaments. While it might not seem the most interesting automotive feature, the shift from bench seats to bucket seats reveals something about shifting American tastes and the changing role of driving in American culture. And there are signs the front bench or something resembling it might be ready for a comeback. Bench seats were once standard in cars, they were cheap to make, a manufacturer only had to make one frame for an entire front seat rather than two or three separate ones. They could accommodate a crowd valuable in time when autos were precious goods available only to those who could afford them. But they most likely ended up in cars because bench seats were standard in horse drawn carriages and buggies. I think you can draw straight lines and carriages to bench seats and a lot of those early cars even produced cars, not just experimental vehicles, literally had bench seats taken right off the carriage production line and put into the vehicle. I think it's just a natural holdover from that. The earliest known car, a steam powered three wheeler built by a Frenchman named Nicholas Cugnot in the late 1700s had a bench seat that would look right at home in a park or at a picnic table. Later, the first Chevrolet ever manufactured the Series C Classic Six of 1911 featured a front bench seat. Automakers also began putting shifters in the steering column as early as the 1910s, which helped keep the bench seat in cars and automotive historians observed bench seats were useful for snuggling up with a loved one, preferably while the vehicle was not in motion. Bench seats were also a useful feature to have during the era of the drive in movie, which began in 1933 and became wildly popular in the decades that followed, especially the 1950s. Over time bench seats began to disappear. One of the primary reasons cited by historians was the increasing preference for sportier bucket seats seen in European sports cars. In the years following World War Two, the American car market began to absorb imports from European countries. These cars were smaller and sportier than the classic large American sedan, and they had become popular with American soldiers who had seen them during their tours in Europe. Bucket seats are really a post-World War Two phenomenon in the US, and I think they can be tied to experiences GIs at overseas, looking at the little British sports cars, the MGs, the Triumphs. And there they had buckets really as a matter of necessity, more than sportiness because the cars were so much smaller than they were in the US. You couldn't comfortably fit three people on a single seat anyway. Faced with this influx of new competition, Americans set about building their own answers to these sportier rides. Those included now classic American sports cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Corvette. The sports cars is a thing really are introduced in the US with first the Corvette in 1953, followed shortly by the Ford Thunderbird, which was never formally called a sports car but certainly went in the same direction with the two bucket seats. And from those people start to adopt bucket seats as an option in their standard family cars, if you will. And if I had to point to one car more than any other that's responsible for the shift, I would say probably the Ford Mustang which was such a phenomenal seller in 1964, 1965. And that was a car that just came standard with the front bucket seats. And people loved the look, the feel, the sportiness, the implied sportiness of those seats. And from that point on I think there was no going back. But there is another reason why bench seats began to disappear safety. Beginning in the 1970s, the automotive industry and its regulators began to push for safety devices in cars known as passive restraints, devices that are automatically activated whenever passengers are in a car. Unlike a conventional seatbelt, for example, which a person has to buckle, these devices include certain types of automatic seatbelts seen in some cars. But perhaps the most common example is airbags. The genesis of demise of the front bench seat can be traced back to passive restraints because in the early 70s, automakers had two ways of meeting safety regulations. They could either put airbags in cars or they could put passive belts in where you wouldn't have to buckle up. Given the technology at the time, with the passive belts they could only do the outboard seating positions in the front seat. So there was no protection for the center passenger. So to prevent somebody sitting in the center part, you had the console, which was really sort of the province of sports cars of the era, migrate into all kinds of cars just to keep somebody from sitting in that middle front seating position. The introduction of bucket seats coincided with the return of the shifter from the steering column to the center of the car and the introduction of the center console where automakers began to place ashtrays, compartments and eventually cup holders. Bucket seats steadily became more popular. But bench seats remained pretty common in US cars until the 1980s, according to some automotive historians. Over time, though, the automobile began to change. Carmakers began cramming more and more stuff into the center of the vehicle, both in the console and on the dashboard. Eight track players gave way to tape decks and then CD players and then infotainment systems. There are climate controls, controls for drive modes such as four wheel drive, seat warmers, and so on. The proliferation of these features coincided with a steady change in the role of the automobile in American culture toward a tool for ordinary commuters who often drove alone. Interest in bench seats declined accordingly. Today, automakers market their cars as practically a home away from home. Customers want interiors decked out with the latest tech features, along with storage for their phones and other items in the center console. And yes, they want plenty of cup holders, too. It reveals a lot about ourselves and our changing lives outside of the car itself. And we've talked about the people spending more time driving, more time moving from place to place. We've talked about mobile work now, and I'm thinking about folks who literally work out of their cars, ride sharing services, that kind of thing, where you have to have a space to keep your paperwork, to keep your devices, whatever that might be to allow you to do that job. Independent contractors who are sometimes going from gig to gig in their car. They're organizing the files and things in those spaces. So we do see those kinds of patterns and they can speak to larger changes that are taking place in society. In 2012, GM announced that it was getting rid of the bench seat configuration on the Chevrolet Impala, the final sedan that GM offered them on. The bench seat option for the Impala cost $195 extra. About 1 in 10 buyers opted for it. Where you will still find bench seats are in the cabins of full size pickups and in a few full size SUVs such as GM's Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon. They may pop up again from time to time in some cars should consumers desire them or designers think they can lure a few buyers with a dose of nostalgia every so often seemingly obsolete or out of fashion features may see a slight resurgence. Automakers catering to enthusiasts have decided to stock some cars with manual transmissions in response to customer demand, as Ford did with a certain variation on the 2021 Bronco. German automaker Audi decided to begin selling the RS6 Avant sport wagon in the United States, despite the fact that wagons have all but completely disappeared from the U.S. market. Few are as keenly aware of how much cars have changed as automotive historians are. They also know that some things have a way of coming back as consumer needs and new technology change vehicles in other ways. Manual transmissions are already disappearing from roads, and cars with automatic transmissions are increasingly controlled by electronic shifters. Companies such as Jaguar and Land Rover have done away with shift sticks entirely, replacing them with small shifter knobs that disappear into the console when not in use. The much anticipated C8 Corvette controls its transmission with a series of buttons mounted on the console. We could be opening the door back to having bench seats with things like the shift levers becoming buttons, you know, because back when you had a front bench seat, typically you had a column mounted shift. And then, you know, when they started putting the center consoles in you started getting a center mounted shift lever and now you've gone to shift by wire so the button can be anywhere. And again, I think you'll see that that will open up that space. And there may be some innovative vehicles to where you'll have three across seating. Two of the most talked about technological shifts in the automotive industry are electric cars and self-driving cars. Both technologies are expected to spur a complete rethinking of how cars are designed and used. Electric cars barely require a shifter at all, so the question of where to place one is moot. Tesla's, for example, are all single speed cars with no engine. There is no need for gears. All a driver needs to do is put the vehicle in park, reverse, drive, or neutral. Autonomous cars can remove the need for a driver at all. And self-driving car designs reimagine cars as small pods where passengers can be seated facing each other, perhaps around a table. When you get into an autonomous car, it's a whole different deal. It can be more like a sofa that more than two people can sit on. And you don't have a steering wheel in the way. You don't have any of that stuff. But, you know, the advancements in airbag technology has made it so that you may not even need a seatbelt. Who knows? Bench seats have already been spotted in some concept cars, including the Genesis Mint Electric vehicle concept. The timeline for self-driving cars is long, but if the technology progresses, your car could once again become a great place to watch a movie with a loved one.