The automotive industry continues to innovate, bringing to the market new cars and technologies that bring consumers to new car dealer showrooms. In recent years we have seen the introduction of the first modern electric cars as well as safety technologies such as automatic braking. From 2013 and beyond, the top auto trends are expected to include the following updates.
Smaller and Lighter
The incredible shrinking car is coming, but don’t think that smaller or lighter translates into savings. To keep up with increasingly tougher federal fuel economy requirements, manufacturers are cutting vehicle weight. A nip here, a tuck there and your new car will weigh less than the one that it replaces.
Some of the changes are not so apparent as in making greater use of aluminum in sheet metal or relying on carbon fiber. Other changes include eliminating the spare tire and replacing it with a lightweight tire inflation kits and using run-flat tires.
Expanded Use of Hybrids
Other than the Toyota Prius, hybrid models just aren’t selling. Expect that to change as high gas prices hold firm or rise slightly. When you’re paying $2 for gas, you aren’t thinking hybrid. At $4, hybrid vehicles come into play.
One turn off with most hybrids is the price premium, typically adding $3,500 to each vehicle. It can take years to recover that cost, if ever. Hybrid technology costs will continue to drop as production increases, with those savings passed on to consumers. One model, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, does not come with a price premium. For no extra charge, consumers can buy this vehicle and get a whopping 45 mpg.
Revenge of the Diesel
Do you remember the slow-as-molasses diesel-powered cars of the 1970s and 1980s? Those vehicles failed to inspire and turned off an entire generation of potential diesel car buyers.
Over the past few years, improvements in performance and a reduction in pollution has made diesels more popular. Heavy duty pickup trucks offer them, German manufacturers sell them and beginning in 2013, the Chevrolet Cruze will offer one. When a car can get upwards of 50 mpg, a diesel’s attractiveness improves accordingly. Look for more manufacturers to joint the diesel revolution in the coming years.
Safety Does Sell
Lee Iaccoca once famously said, “safety does not sell” cars. Well, that was decades before air bags, traction control and blind spot monitoring technologies arrived on the scene. These days, consumers expect that their average cost $30,000 vehicle will do more than just take them from point to point — they want to know that their vehicles will offer them the maximum protection possible.
Vehicles that stop themselves are already available including from Volvo. Working at speeds under 20 mph, Volvo makes use of a forward-facing camera and sensors to detect a pedestrian or a stopped car. If you don’t react in time, your vehicle will do so by applying the brakes.
Car manufacturers are looking at other ways to stop your car by introducing technologies where cars can “talk” with each other or by deploying airbags underneath the vehicle. Mercedes-Benz is working on the latter, what can help stop a car in half the normal time.
Imagine driving down the road and being able to brush your hair, check your teeth, eat a sandwich or read a magazine when sitting behind the wheel of your car. You say that you already do these things? Shame on you — you’re a distracted driver!
Seriously, the day when you can enter your car and sit wherever you want and have your invisible driver take you where you want to go is a matter of time. Since the 1990s, experiments with self-driving cars have been held. In 2010, the Volkswagen Group teamed up with engineers from Oracle and Stanford University to send an autonomous car to the top of Colorado’s Pike Peak. That car navigated this difficult route without incident, signaling that these vehicles are just about ready for prime time.
Of course, as drivers we may not be ready yet and there are some engineering and legal obstacles that must be addressed. Still, by 2025, new cars may be able to take to road with the driver asleep behind the wheel with no concern that sleeping (or drinking while driving for that matter) will ever be matters of concern again.