Problem

Planned obsolescence

Other Names:
Manipulated product life cycles
Inbuilt shortened product life
Deliberately limited product life
Constructed product death
Intentional dependency on product upgrades
Nature:
Since product 'death' is inevitable - that is, because its design will be superceded by a new fashion or technology, or because its materials will wear out - and since industry is geared to the need for product replacement, products are engineered to die by material or mechanical failure. This makes a science out of replacement production when it is known that the product will not last more than ten years (automobiles) or not more than several weeks (batteries). Such planned obsolescence is a characteristic of every variety of consumer product and in some cases has resulted in serious accidents due to inadequate quality. The costs to the economy of planned obsolescence are incalculable.
Claim:
1. The planned obsolescence of many items is notorious. Possibly toys might top the list and, in some countries, clothing articles. Automobiles, batteries and some home appliances are well-known for failure, although the electric light bulb might also be given first place. In addition, the arms race is justified by military procurement based on planned obsolescence of aircraft, ships and weapons, and of delivery and support systems.

2. A product which can be constantly upgraded so that it never becomes obsolete would be the answer to a consumer's prayer. It would also be less wasteful and therefore more environmentally friendly.

Counter Claim:
1. Product death transpires through competition, substitution, technology, cost-economies or changes in market demand. Products have a life-cycle that is necessary to understand and to anticipate in order to serve end-user needs at the most efficient cost levels. Users will not pay for over-engineered items. Automobiles and personal computers for example, can only be purchased cheaply if one is not looking for life-time usage.

2. As more product markets become saturated, the only way manufacturers can generate new sales is by introducing a fresh model which tempts the consumer back into the shop.

Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
22.12.1999 – 00:00 CET