"Are there other "it absolutely makes sense" consumer-product changes which you think about, and which our technology now allows, but haven't been adopted yet?"
How about get rid of the center console cup and CD holders, place a passenger seat on both right and left, and place the steering wheel and driver's seat in the middle. No more left/right issues and room for an extra passenger for car pooling. Might have to make the vehicle a few centimeters wider to give the driver elbow room.
Just wondering, does anyone know if the standard floor pedal and steering wheel arrangement was ever patented? Or were such things considered too obvious back then?
I shudder at the thought of driving along at highway speeds where a twitch or accidental nudge of a joystick could send my car careening off the road or into the oncoming lane. As novel and intuitive as those of the video-game generation would regard joystick steering, I think the steering wheel embodies several key aspects of tactile and visual feedback, as well as safe movement inertia, that would be very difficult to translate meaningfully to a joystick. Even after those problems are addressed, you still introduce a new layer of classification of driver training and licensing since I can't see a "wheel" taught driver drive a joystick car without additional training. That translates into more time and cost to the driver, a formidable barrier to the introduction of anything "new".
I get the sense the Ford exec was being somewhat toungue-in-cheek about the joystick for wheel swap; his underlying intent was probably a nod towards the benefits of drive-by-wire technology in the overall cost, fuel efficiency, and consumer acceptance of cars in the future. Drive-by-wire using a wheel can address the Left-hand/right-hand international market requirement without foisting onto drivers the joystick learning curve plus an extra layer of licensing process. It's up to engineers and designers like us to improve and reduce the cost and weight of the technology that makes drive-by-wire a reality.
A couple weeks ago those nice folks at my local Chevy dealership replaced the electric power steering motor in my Cobalt due to a recall for high failure rate. If the motor had actually failed while driving, the existing rack and pinion mechanical linkage would still have allowed me some control of the vehicle.
Forget that with a joystick. Good for video games, but not in the real world.