New car technology and the shape of things to come

Car ownership for many people is a way of life which brings freedom and a sense of pride and whether it is a top of the range Bentley or a humble Ford Ka, the pleasure can be just the same (although perhaps not the comfort). The fact that there are now so many different makes and models, not to mention myriad trim levels means that car makers are locked into a constant battle to engage with new car buyers and retain their existing customers through innovative technology.

Out of interest I recently started to look at every car manufacturer who produces vehicles for the UK market and see just how many models were currently for sale to the buying public but gave up at about 150. I gave up because I feel that by the time we had published the unofficial list it would probably have become completely out of date the market moves so fast.

In conversation with a friend, who left the motor trade some years ago, we were reminiscing about the good old days when the choice was red, white, blue or black and maybe 3 variants of a particular model and how the customer, by virtue of the fact that there was such a small choice, could be relied upon to make a decision fairly quickly thus speeding up the buying process.

Today however it is often difficult for a buyer to make a decision because there really is just so much choice out there. No one is immune to this change. When changing my car recently – which happens about every 3 months – I realised that having previously had a multi-function steering wheel the fact that the new car arrived without one along with a missing centre arm rest became a real problem for me.

What I had never had never bothered me but after realising how much better the driving experience became as a result of these fairly simple additions I found driving without them was a real pain. How difficult it must be for a customer who may only change their car every 2-3 years and may not have even realised that he could now get seats that actually massaged him whilst he was driving?

It used to be a choice of a sunroof or a/c and so it was a fairly simple decision but today there are probably 10 different options that you wouldn’t even have considered until you had driven a car with them installed. A driver would not know until they were in the new car that they were vital to their enjoyment and comfort. This may go a long way to explain why so many drivers are still making catastrophic financial errors when trying to trade in a 3 month old car they just cannot get on with due to the all round package of a particular make or model.

They are not just gimmicks but enhance the driving pleasure especially if like me you are covering thousands of miles annually. Options such as heated windscreens and wing mirrors are an absolute joy after the harsh winter we have just had. Electric seats with memory are fantastic especially if your partner drives the car and adjusts the positioning meaning next time you get in your face is touching the windscreen. I also love the fact that I can plug my iPod in and enjoy my entire music collection without carrying all the CD’s with me wherever I go. The cup holders for my daily stop at the wild bean cafe are also a must have as is the sat nav for people like me who just never mastered map reading and forgot the directions given by passers by as soon as I drove away.

I am sure we all have our favourites and most are probably far more exciting than mine. If I had predicted twenty years ago that we would now be able to buy a car that parks itself with a parking aid facility then I would probably have been burnt as a witch. It reminds me of just how far we have come with technology in the car world and I am proud to be a small part of it.

Of course more technology means more things to go wrong but some of the technological advances expected to be widespread across all car ranges within the next 10 years are really quite incredible.

Active safety systems – including radar and cameras that watch for danger anticipate hazards and intervene or warn the driver. Along with this cars will be able to call the emergency services on your behalf should you be incapacitated.

Keyless entry – which has already been implemented on many premium models will become the norm as Credit cards replace car keys (which are so last century).

Navigation systems – will become ever more sophisticated and have the capability to connect to PDA’s, mobile phones and all manner of electronic devices.

Wi-Fi hook-ups – in almost every vehicle will provide weather, news, and other information. Petrol and service stations will have “hot-spots” that the car can connect to.

Enhanced data collection – will give vehicles the capability to collect pertinent data that can be shared with service personnel enabling them to perform remote diagnostics and help troubleshoot for a broken down motorist.

Onboard cameras – already widespread will become more sophisticated and will help detect blind spots, while helping parents watch their children. Many cars already have this technology at the front and back to “see” around corners.

Voice commands – will become more common and necessary in order to operate the growing and multifarious functions in cars.

Drive by wire – already in use in premium models – brake and accelerate pedals send an electronic signal rather than activating a physical connection to the engine and brakes. Emergency brake handles will also be replaced by electronic controls. (eek!)

Programmable vehicles – again already available in premium makes will become widespread and let you use electronics to express your choose the type of drive you want be it sporty or luxurious.

Although some advancements may sound a little scary (brake by wire!) it still gives me a certain reassurance that no matter what the authorities and all the other anti-car brigade try to do, by producing the quality and enhanced features which are now being enjoyed daily on our roads they will never beat us.

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