Boy, talk about risky! Well here is my big chance to share my predictions about the Automobile and its future – immediate and otherwise…
All Wheel Steering – Remember the late 1980’s when Honda, Mitsubishi and other Japanese manufacturers gave us rear wheel steering in addition to regular front steering? After a while the concept faded and the mechanicals wore out, but it was an interesting exercise that actually worked, sort of. Now Porsche and other companies have revived the technology with a computer upgrade. So how does it improve things? Low speed cornering, say in a parking lot becomes much more quick and effective and high speed cornering adds stability and smoothness. Will it last or fade out like the earlier versions? Well, with all the mandatory stability control systems on today’s new cars it will probably become part of the mix.
While we are on the subject of automotive computers and electronics, let’s not be surprised that motor vehicles continue to become more and more sophisticated rolling computer networks. No longer just a few gimmicks packaged into the mechanicals of a conveyance, the modern car is now a rolling computerized gimmick with all the capabilities of a smartphone and all the dangers.
Why worry about privacy when it no longer exists? With all those wonderful capabilities packaged in our cars you can now fully enjoy a complete lack of privacy in your transportation as it will not only allow you to connect with the Internet and all its social and technological advantages, it will tattle on you as well. GM announced how its Corvette Stingray will be offered with a Performance Data Recorder so that when you exercise its capabilities on the track you can upload all the bragging rights to the Internet. It consists of a windshield mounted HD video camera, a GPS device to track your accomplishments, and an SD memory card to record hours of delightful statistics. I can’t wait until the first idiot uses this capability on public roads and his upload becomes the testimony that convicts him of the crime of having too much fun.
The buying population to look at is Gen Y. That’s the 20-35 year-olds that are supposed to take over as the demographic to watch, now that the baby boomers and Gen X’s are aging out. Guess what? 29% of Gen Y are willing to give up on cars for other options like public transportation, or biking, or walking. The 57% of them that do plan to have a car expect it to be powered by an alternative to the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine within five years. Oh yeah, and they expect the government to subsidize these vehicles, too. The remaining 14% percent will act like their parents, I guess.
The big driver will be the MPG (miles per gallon) requirements coming up in another decade. Sure, you can fool around with the gasoline engine by adding more computerization and fancy components like direct injection and turbocharging, but the factor that has the most significant effect on mileage is weight. So expect that car companies will be putting their cars on diets. This won’t be any easier than trying to get the US population to trend away from obesity, but it is the best opportunity they have.
This effort will conflict with the existing and future crash requirements as well as all the new gadgets that have, and are, being stuffed into our transportation. But if they want to reach the mileage mandate – well off must come some weight.
Perhaps this will bring back the days of sub-2000 pound cars that were little rockets of excitement back in the old days.
Power is climbing, at least in the performance market cars. The Corvette, the Mustang, and others are boasting substantial power increases, and as a friend of mine commented, “This is a great time for people who love fast cars.” With the MPG requirements ahead this is probably only temporary.
Hey, my first car only had 40 hp.
So why are cars looking so much alike? While some brands are still finding ways to visually define a unique shape or style, it is becoming more and more of a challenge as legislation requires ever more crash worthiness and pedestrian protection.
Just like the rules of NASCAR became so tight that all the race cars looked alike, so go the road going cars. Hey, the manufacturers are all using the same software to design with, so as all the constraints of the federal mandates are factored in the results start to look all the same as well. Don’t expect that situation to change, since software compatibility is essential to allow suppliers to produce all the seats, gauges, and other pieces for car companies at the lowest cost and in the quickest time.
But what about way out in the future, say in five to ten years? Well autonomous driving is still the buzzword. Many more cars can park themselves and cruise control is morphing into something much more than just maintaining a constant speed. New versions make certain that you stay in your lane and don’t rear end the SUV in front of you, or back out of a parking spot into a child.
The tort attorneys are boning up in anticipation of self-driving vehicles but there might be another factor for you to keep in mind as you contemplate the joys of reading the paper while your car drives your commute.
Lately the federal agency that overlooks commercial aviation has found that while computerization has made air transportation more economical with automatic takeoffs, landings, and cruise time; when situations occur that require pilots to actually fly the plane they are lacking in the skills to do so.
What might happen when people give up actual wheel time so they can text and drink coffee on their commute and find themselves in a situation where they actually have to drive the car?
3D printing was just a wonder toy that big corporations and Jay Leno could afford. My experiences at the display booths of printer manufacturers at PRI was very enlightening. They are now capable of printing in multiple materials with end products that are more than prototypes. How much longer before 3D printers can produce the final piece? Will 3D printing allow for the construction of parts that would be impossible to manufacture using current methods?
In the future your local dealership might just have to wait for their 3D printer to create your replacement part rather than ordering it and having it shipped. What if your auto parts store ends up being a printer that creates it just in time? What will happen to the trucking and package delivery industry?
I (sigh) remember when the future predicted flying cars, but they never happened. So I recognize that many of my predictions might never take place, but its fun to contemplate. I’ll let you keep score.