Earlier this week, Alfa Romeo announced the Tonale crossover. For the most part, it seems like a perfectly suitable vehicle for today’s market — a plug-in hybrid compact crossover that seats five and “Is Tall” is exactly what consumers are clamoring for. But the Tonale has something no other crossover offers: An NFT of its service history, tied to the car forever. This is extremely dumb.
To be clear, the idea of a digital version of a car’s service history is a very good one. The ability to check a car’s maintenance records before you buy, or just look at your own history with dealers, is a major value-add for a vehicle. You can see what services were done, when they were done, and whether the same issues continue to crop up despite repairs. The issue comes up when you start to get the blockchain involved.
For those unfamiliar with NFTs, first let me say that I envy you. If you’re living under a rock, is there more room? It’s bad out here. As much as I hate to do this, I’ll shatter your peaceful life in the next paragraph by telling you what these dumb expensive JPEGs are, but you can just scroll past it. Stay gold, Ponyboy.
If you’ve made the tough decision to keep reading, I respect your thirst for knowledge. NFTs are tokens on a blockchain, much like any other crypto coin. They can be bought and sold, transferred between wallets, all the while backed up by thousands of computers using incomprehensible amounts of energy to verify transactions. They’re used to prove ownership of things, because the biggest problem the world faced as 2021 drew to a close was that there was no way to legally own a bad picture of a monkey.
Alfa Romeo has decided to use that same technology to verify the service records of every Tonale sold, a move that definitely won’t have any impact on our incredibly fragile and rapidly weakening ecosystem. This is a bad move, but it’s made worse because of one key factor: it’s entirely unnecessary to the benefit Alfa Romeo wants to provide.
This image, pictured above, is the actual service record to the actual Toyota (ok, Scion) that I actually own. Every time my car has entered a dealer’s service bay, for any reason, is already listed. This isn’t unique to me — every Toyota seems to have the same capability through the company’s owner centre. The tech for a digital service history is already here, and has been for years. Adding the blockchain, just because it’s trendy, is a hell of a cost to bear for no tangible benefit.
The key aspect of NFTs is uniquity — the blockchain verifies who owns a single token, so any duplicates can easily be checked and ignored. With cars, there’s already a unique identifier, and it’s printed right on the dashboard. Cars have VINs, there’s no need for a complicated proof-of-ownership system to tie a service record to a car. Just use the VIN, like service centres have been doing for decades.
Brands always want to rush into the next hot thing. Right now, that’s NFTs, despite the horrifying ecological ramifications of the blockchain. If your next SUV came equipped with a cup holder full of Pogs or Beanie Babies, each equipped with a tag saying exactly how much rainforest was destroyed to fuel their construction, you may decide to go with a competitor’s product. That’s how Alfa Romeo’s NFT service history feels — useless in function, and disastrous in form.