Friday, May 14, 2010

Cars You'll Be Driving In 10 Years



What can consumers expect to see on roads by 2020? Lightweight and fuel-efficient sports cars; innovative design schemes; and powerful four-door sedans from some of the world’s most exclusive luxury automakers.

China is already taking steps to increase car sales. Transactions are expected to more than double by 2015, according to an April 22nd forecast by J.D. Power and Associates. Last year China's government awarded the equivalent of one-third of the country's gross domestic product to consumer-stimulus and bank-lending plans--which translated into roaring vehicle sales and record profits for many long-established automakers, according to the report.

Those automakers have got some special vehicles planned to capitalize on that fervor. BMW is hoping its zero-emissions Megacity Vehicle and GM's EN-V (Electric Networked-Vehicle) will become big sellers in Asia's big cities.

"China’s rapid growth makes the automotive market highly attractive and almost irresistible to any automaker," John Humphrey, senior vice president of global automotive operations for J.D. Power, said in the report. "The retail landscape in China is going to undergo dramatic change in the coming years."

Stateside, drivers can expect luxury--in both small and large vehicles. Think along the lines of a four-door Bugatti and Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid. Bugatti, for one, is competing with recent luxe four-door entries from Porsche and Maserati. Porsche, with its super-fast hybrid, is hoping to capitalize on the growing hybrid market. Hybrid sales in the U.S. decreased just 7.5% to 290,280 units in 2009, compared to a 21.2% decline for all vehicles. They held about 3% of the U.S. automotive market last year but are expected to triple by 2015, according to J.D. Power.

Model Cars

To get a sense of what cars we'll be driving 10 years from now, we spoke with automakers including General Motors, BMW, Audi and Porsche. While they couldn't divulge which cars and trucks we'll see in showrooms in 2020 (new-product specs are closely guarded secrets), the concepts they are currently debuting give us a pretty good idea.

The Bugatti 16C Galibier concept gives the public a peek at what the automaker will produce in the next several years. Judging from photos Bugatti has already released, the car based on the 16C Galibier will have blue carbon-fiber and polished aluminum bodywork, eight external exhaust pipes and a body-long spine that opens like flywings along the front hood. If the Veyron is any indication, the four-seat Galibier will be the most expensive, most powerful four-door car in the world.At the other end of the automotive spectrum, the car based on the electric Toyota FT-CH will be an even more economical counterpart to the $22,800 Toyota Prius. The car is part of Toyota's goal to sell one million hybrids each year globally before 2015; it's launching eight all-new hybrids in the next few years. FT-CH will be smaller (22 inches shorter in overall length), lighter and cheaper--and targeted to a younger audience.

When is a Car Not a Car?

The introduction of such innovative vehicles means that those behind the wheel will have to think differently about their driving habits. For people living in European and Asian cities, the future of transportation could look a lot like GM's EN-V--an electric two-wheeler created by GM and the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (built on previous concepts that GM created with Segway). It's about five feet long and less than 1,000 pounds, with a top speed of 25 miles per hour. The pod uses a GPS system to navigate traffic and even has an auto-drive mode--perfect for commuters who want to be driven on their way to work but also want their own vehicle.

These innovations might also include high-quality, luxurious interiors, super-advanced crash-avoidance technology and drastically reduced carbon emissions--something along the lines of the Audi E-Tron. E-Tron's air intakes open and close depending on driving conditions, decreasing drag on the car and improving driving range. The cabin is shifted toward the front axle (the battery unit is in the rear) to improve handling performance, and the cockpit is oriented toward the driver, with a "floating" dash and slim center console. There are almost no buttons or switches inside (it has no transmission, and the gear selector emerges only when the car is started.) Energy-efficient automatic headlamps and LED lighting line inside and outside the car."There's a perception that everybody's a car freak or a car geek and cars have to look like cars, but to a lot of people, an automobile is just a means of getting someplace," says Clay Dean, GM's director of advanced global design. "So we're looking at the things that you can do that perhaps are unique, things that are very, very small, things that are extremely efficient."Automakers keep notoriously mum about exactly how much they spend on research and design, but it's safe to assume most spend tens of millions of dollars on it each year: Dave Engelman, a spokesman at Porsche, says the Stuttgart-based company spends about 15% of its total budget on R&D--and didn't slough off any when the industry went south."It's a tremendous amount to spend, especially from a percentage standpoint, from the size of the company that we are," he says. "But it's where we learn quite a bit."Two-seater car-pods and silent sports cars may seem futuristic, but they actually aren't that far off. It takes about seven years to design, develop, test and produce a new car--in fact, GM designers have already developed what's slated for the next several years, Dean says: "In my mind, I'm already living in 2015."