Picking up the Groceries and the Kids in 2016
Louie Flann, June 12, 2015
What will your next car be like? Will it be like all your previous cars, replaced because it was worn out? Or, will it be
replaced because it is obsolete?
There is no difference between today's automotive engineers and rocket scientists. They have been improving safety and
economy for a century. Every year we hear that this year's model is "New and Improved" when it really is last year's
model with newly shaped headlights, or lights on the mirrors. This time, this year, there really are improvements—to
Our cars have been getting more complex—and more electronic—giving us a computerized analysis of problems found
by the car's engine sensors. The sensors also perfectly adjust the air/fuel mixture for the optimum performance or
economy. My 89 Volvo had this system and every car made after it had a more advanced system. That's not new.
The anti-lock braking system prohibits the wheels from locking on surfaces with poor traction. This allows us to steer
the car even when we are on slippery roads. It completely controls the braking and has been here for a while. Again, my
89 Volvo had this. So, what's new?
Honda brought out their Insight hybrid car in 1999 followed closely by the Toyota Prius. Hybrid cars use both an electric
motor and a gas engine to drive the wheels.
Under 30 miles per hour, the car uses only the electric motor. Above that, or when more acceleration is needed, the
gasoline engine starts and adds its power to that of the electric motor. The gas engine turns off at stoplights so no energy
is wasted while the car is standing still.
Why make the car so complex, adding an electric motor to a car with a gasoline engine? It's about efficiency. The
gasoline engines are around 20% efficient in using their fuel while the electric motors are at least 90%. So you get about
three times more work from a dollar spent on electricity.
When the batteries that power the electric motor run low on energy, they are recharged by the gas engine using the
electric motor to generate electricity, and it does this at the most economical engine speed adding to the efficiency of the
Plug-in Hybrid cars are also in today's market. The batteries are charged by the gas engine running the electric motor as a
generator or by plugging into an electric socket in your garage or outside of your favorite restaurant. That's also been
around for a while.
Jeep, Ford, Volkswagen, and others, are being sold with a “self-parking”option. They can park parallel or perpendicular
to the curb. Most systems control the steering wheel only and require the driver to select forward or reverse and operate
the pedals. Warnings sound and lights flash when your car is too near an obstacle. This system can eliminate parking lot
accidents—you’re warned if another vehicle or a person is in the path of your car. You can order your new car with this
system right now. So, what’s new?
Sensors on our cars now control the engine and the anti-skid braking system (ABS, remember the light on the
dashboard?). Shortly, our cars will have more sensors, like those on the self-parking car, that will not only communicate
with us, the driver, but also with the surrounding cars. Our position will be known by the cars near us and we will know
their positions as well as their speed and their possible future paths. The sensors flash lights, emit sounds, and activate
our brake lights to help us eliminate crashes. With more cars sending information, danger spots can be spotted farther
away allowing the traffic control system to create more alternate paths to be offered to the cars.
Veering from the lane, a car in the blind spot, a car ahead stopping too fast, an unseen car around the corner, or a person
walking in front of your car are some of the hazards that can be avoided with this connected car system. Volvo has a
feature that if you are too close to the car in front of you and going too fast, the car will apply the brakes to avoid a
collision. They have advertised this for quite some time.
And in early May, Google announced that it will be testing 25 driverless cars this summer at its Mountain View,
California campus—small neighborhood cars that only go 25 miles per hour but will be driven completely without human
That's this summer. And next summer? I can only imagine what will be an available option for us. Or can I?
So, that’s what’s new—today. (Back to Links Page)