An auto show presents the rare opportunity to look at nearly every new vehicle from multiple brands in one place without the pressure to buy. It also gives you a chance to see the latest models before they hit the dealer showrooms, and provides a closer look at concept or exotic cars you might dream of buying. And aside from being an enthusiast's playground, an auto show can be a valuable tool if you're in the market to buy a new car.
The Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off the season in November. January brings the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Chicago Auto Show follows in February, and the New York International Auto Show closes out the U.S. season in April. In addition to these four major U.S. shows, there are a number of smaller auto shows in cities throughout the country. Edmunds keeps a more detailed list of these. You can follow auto shows via Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites. The shows use these to highlight some vehicles in advance and give you more information on associated events.
You can approach an auto show from two shopper's perspectives: If you're just getting started and have no idea what car is right for you , use the show to see what's new and which models grab your attention. If you already have an idea of the car you want, use the show to get a closer look at a vehicle and check out its competition. Here are some other tips for becoming a sharp-eyed auto-show shopper and researcher:
Plan a Course of Action, Via Your Smartphone
Most of the major auto shows have smartphone apps that feature a map of the show floor, exhibit hours and a list of the vehicles on display. Pay attention to the car brands you want to see and note what other makers are nearby. You also should stop by the booths of a few other carmakers that you hadn't considered. This will help you plan the most efficient route along the show floors, which are often quite large and can be spread out among convention center halls.
We also recommend that you download the Edmunds app, available for both Apple and Android smartphones. It's an invaluable tool, whether you need to read an expert review on a car or you want to compare its manufacturer's suggested retail price with its actual average selling price in your area (assuming the car is already in dealer showrooms). You can even enter figures into a calculator to estimate your monthly payment.
Avoid the Crowds
An auto show's opening weekend draws the biggest crowds. If you show up then, you'll be squeezing your way through masses of people just to get a glimpse of a car. And if you manage to sit inside a car you're interested in, you'll probably be joined by other people who are also folding the seats up and down and pushing every button there is — not the most relaxed way to assess a car. If possible, try to go to the show on a weekday, preferably as soon as the doors open. But if you can only go on one of the busier days, make sure to show up as early as possible.
As you plan out your day, give yourself at least two hours to see everything. That way, you can proceed at your own pace and ask the carmakers' representatives as many questions as you need to.
An auto show allows you to compare the greatest number of cars in the shortest amount of time and distance. It is a much better use of your time than crisscrossing town to visit various dealerships. So don't just look at the car that interests you most. Be sure to check out its competitors, too. If you don't know the competitors, ask the representatives at the show. You should also take a look at our model reviews and road tests ahead of time. We always list a vehicle's competitors in our reviews. If you're short on time, the Edmunds app will come in handy: The model reviews are formatted for on-the-go reading.
Don't hesitate to put the car through its (stationary) paces. Sit in the front and backseats. Which vehicle is the most comfortable? Which is a good fit for the size of your family? Take a look at the buttons and dials on the instrument panel. Are they well-designed and intuitive? Pop the trunk and picture whether it could haul your average amount of cargo. These questions and their answers will help you determine if the car you're considering fits your needs. Take photos and notes of features you liked on each car to refresh your memory later.
This is also a chance to explore the new technology in the car. The carmaker representatives at the show can give you tutorials on anything from exploring the smartphone integration to inputting an address on the navigation system.
Talk to the Product Specialists
One of the best things about an auto show is the lack of sales pressure. Automakers often hire product specialists to be experts on the cars and answer any questions. This can be a tremendous help to you. The auto show reps have to be well schooled in the cars on display and since some of the new vehicles haven't yet hit the dealer showrooms, they're the ones who are up to date on the newest car features. Don't hesitate to ask them any questions you may have about the cars you're seeing.
You may also meet a "booth rep." These are local dealership salespeople who have been asked to staff the booth for a day. Although their day job is sales, they can't actually sell you any of the cars in the auto show, so there's little chance of getting a hard sell. They may offer you their business cards, however.
Interact and Participate
Some automakers will offer you small prizes, such as gift cards, to encourage you to participate in the tutorials and trivia contests or to encourage you to share your contact information. The activities are fun ways to learn about the car and potentially go home with a reward.
Many carmakers' booths are set up with interactive elements such as iPads or computer kiosks. These can provide more in-depth information, allow you to configure the vehicle with options or show you what the car looks like in another color.
Take a Test-Drive
Some auto shows have "ride and drive" events. These are a great opportunity to test-drive the cars you're considering without having to go to multiple dealerships. Not every auto show offers test-drives, nor will the drives include every vehicle on display. But there is no better research than taking a car for a spin yourself. Even if you only go for a ride-along, you can still get a feel for ride comfort, road noise and engine purr (or roar).
Steps to Take After the Show
By the end of your visit, you should have a better idea of which car you might want to buy. Jot down a few notes while the impressions are still fresh in your mind. Make a list of pros and cons for each vehicle to help you decide.
For more detailed pricing information, take a look at our new car section. If you want to start looking for your vehicle on dealer lots, our new car inventory tool can help. Finally, if you are a first-time new car buyer, we've also got you covered with a guide that walks you through the process.
Good luck, and happy hunting.
The Consumer Electronics Show ( CES ) in Las Vegas has long been where TVs, cameras and other personal electronics take center stage. However, in the past few years, cars and the technology that drives them have stolen the spotlight. Automotive executives delivered keynote addresses that kicked off the 2015 show, and they painted a picture of a future in which connected cars would be the norm and autonomous vehicles would appeal to the masses — and to the upper classes as well, with some driverless cars offering sociable face-to-face seating last seen in the horse-drawn carriage. Carmakers also showed the smartphone becoming an integral part of the vehicle's infotainment system, with touchscreens that can be controlled with a wave of the hand.
Some of these ideas sound like they're far from reality...and they are. But others are closer than you might imagine. We've gathered a list of the top trends at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. While our main focus is on technology that is close to production, we also take a look at developments that offer a glimpse into the more distant future.
Infotainment Systems Evolve
Now that cars are more mechanically sound than ever, the vehicle's infotainment system has become the next system to iron out. There have been some growing pains over the past few years as automakers have struggled to create the ideal system. One thing automaker Ford realized is that it couldn't create its infotainment system on its own.
The solution, according to Ford, was to let customers sit down with engineers and design the system together. After 30 clinics and 22,000 pieces of feedback, users and Ford engineers isolated three key needs. The system must be easy to use, fast and familiar.
Ford incorporated all the feedback into its latest version of Sync. Sync 3 features a more responsive "capacitive" touchscreen that users can swipe and pinch to zoom, just like a smartphone screen. It replaces the old "resistive" screen, such as you'd find at a supermarket checkout counter. The smartphone-inspired interface features large touch targets, with high contrast, which make it better for automotive use. The bottom of the screen has a row of buttons that remains consistent regardless of the function that's displayed.
This "function tray" allows quick access to such features as audio, climate control, phone, navigation, apps and settings. Sync 3 benefits from a significant speed increase, compared to the previous MyFord Touch system, according to Ford. Other notable features are better voice recognition, the ability to enter navigation directions in a single text box and the ability to receive software updates via WiFi. Ford Sync 3 will debut this year on 2016 models.
On the luxury side of things, Audi debuted the interior for the next-generation Q7 , which borrows the " virtual cockpit " from the 2016 Audi TT . That environment includes a 12-inch TFT display that doubles as the gauge array and infotainment system. For the Q7, Audi adds a touchpad with pinch-to-zoom control and "haptic" feedback (meaning you get a tactile response, such as a vibration, when you touch the pad). It also features improved voice control that will respond to such natural-voice commands as, "Where can I fill up?" or "Where is the nearest shopping mall?"
The Q7 will be the first to debut the Audi Tablet. First shown at the 2014 CES, the Audi Tablet is an Android -based device that will replace a traditional rear entertainment system and allow passengers in the back to surf the Web, input navigation directions and even download a game from the Google Play store. Finally, the Q7 will be one of the first Audi vehicles to integrate Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in the dash.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Are Coming Soon
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are solutions that Apple and Google use to integrate the smartphone into the vehicle. Both systems require the driver to connect a phone via USB. The car handles the pairing process and once the driver hits the appropriate button onscreen, the system will transition into the Apple or Android interface. Both systems focus on the key features that a person wants from a smartphone when driving: navigation data, messaging, music and phone. The systems take a different approach with how they display the data, but the goal is the same: reducing distraction by getting the driver to put down the phone and rely instead on voice functionality and the presentation of data on the vehicle's screen.
Car buyers won't have to wait long for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Audi, Chevrolet , Hyundai and Volkswagen all had vehicles at CES running both systems. Several of these carmakers said that smartphone integration through these systems will arrive sometime before the end of 2015. While Ford didn't demo the capability at CES, the company has promised that CarPlay and Android Auto will work with Sync 3.
Hyundai, meanwhile, announced that its new Display Audio System ditches the CD player and satellite navigation system to keep costs down and allow more people to have access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This means you won't have to buy the top-of-the-line vehicle to get the latest in smartphone integration.
Gesture Is the New Touch
Touchscreens are still one of the best ways to access a number of features in a vehicle, but screens take the driver's eyes off the road. The automakers at CES believe gesture control is a solution to that problem.
BMW showed a concept of its next-generation iDrive interface. Sensors mounted in the headliner of the concept vehicle detect movements near the infotainment system and respond to specific commands. Want to raise the volume? Twirl a finger clockwise. Need to answer a call? Point at the screen to accept. Need directions home? Point two fingers at the screen. This concept was also notable for featuring the first appearance of a touchscreen in a BMW. The system still uses the traditional iDrive dial, but will now offer a redundant touchscreen for drivers who prefer that method.
The Volkswagen Golf R Touch concept eliminates all buttons inside the vehicle and instead relies on multiple touchscreens with haptic feedback. It also has gesture controls to change the seat position and open the sunroof.
Connected Cars Provide Additional Services
When connected cars first debuted, all it took was a WiF i hotspot to wow the crowds at CES. In 2014, General Motors promised to have a connected fleet over the next few model years. Currently, 30 GM vehicles have high-speed 4G LTE connections, with more on the way. This connection makes it possible to lock a door, honk the horn, or remotely start the vehicle via a smartphone app. Many other automakers have followed suit, including a small company called Keyfree technologies, which has created an aftermarket solution to provide similar remote-access features.
Chevrolet demonstrated an advanced vehicle diagnostic program designed to predict when a critical part of the engine is about to give out and require repair. The prognostic service is an opt-in program that constantly monitors the vehicle's battery, starter motor and fuel pump. The automaker selected those parts because they are the ones most likely to leave a person stranded if they fail.
The car transmits data to OnStar's secure servers, where it is analyzed to assess whether a certain part is on the road to malfunctioning. The system will then alert the driver via text, e-mail or in-car warning, suggesting that the driver take the vehicle to the dealer for service. The dealer will then read the warning codes and take the appropriate action. The prognostic service will debut on select 2016 Chevrolet Corvette, Equinox, Suburban, Silverado, Silverado HD and Tahoe models.
Autonomous Vehicles Get Smarter
When it comes to self-driving cars, CES has become the annual progress marker, showing off how much closer autonomous vehicles are to reality.
This year, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving Concept make a road trip from Palo Alto, California, to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The car drove on its own for more than 550 miles and could initiate lane changes and passing maneuvers. There was, of course, a human in the driver seat, ready to take the wheel at a moment's notice. Audi has seamlessly integrated the autonomous-driving technology into the vehicle so there is no radar array or cameras protruding from the grille or roof.
Such a trip requires an enormous amount of data and calculations that would quickly overwhelm a traditional vehicle's computer. So Audi turned to Nvidia , a computer GPU chip manufacturer. Nvidia created the Tegra K1 and its successor, the Tegra X1 superchip , which enable a car to teach itself with a training algorithm and identify different types of vehicles on the road, such as an SUV, truck or police car. It also can spot a pedestrian, even if he is partially blocked from view by a parked car.
The Tegra X1 is about the size of a thumbnail, but packs the computing power of a room-sized supercomputer from 10 years ago, said Dave Anderson, Nvidia's senior manager of automotive integration.
Mercedes-Benz offered a glimpse even farther into the future. The carmaker says it imagined the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept from the ground up to serve as transport of the future. Passengers can rotate the bucket seats to face each other to socialize while the car automatically takes them to their destination. Inside the vehicle, the door panels have touchscreens, which respond to gestures and enable the passengers to make video calls, browse the Web or keep up on social media. The LED lighting outside the vehicle gives pedestrians visual cues to signal that it sees them and indicates whether it is driving autonomously (blue) or being driven by a person (white).
Audi and Mercedes have not said when their autonomous vehicles will arrive in showrooms, but both said they were confident the technology will be ready long before state governments sort out the licensing issues, insurance implications and ethical conundrums posed by this vehicle of the future.
Thanks to consumer desire for connectivity and convenience, WiFi is now common in many households. The wireless Internet connection standard is also pervasive outside the home at coffee shops, hotels and even outdoor spaces like parks.
One of the few places where WiFi hasn't been available is in vehicles, but that's changing now that drivers and passengers are demanding to stay connected. Automakers have begun to turn their vehicles into roving WiFi hot spots via onboard high-speed cellular modems and other means.
Since most drivers already have an Internet connection on their smartphones, in-car WiFi may seem like a technology trying to fulfill a need that doesn't exist — and another way for wireless carriers to get consumers to spend more on data. But Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst of automotive infotainment and HMI for IHS Technology, said the technology isn't "just about having a WiFi hot spot in the car."
He noted that WiFi is used by Tesla to perform over-the-air software updates on the Model S , and a technology called WiFi Direct will be appearing in cars soon to allow a better data connection than Bluetooth. He also predicted that, as with other new technologies, in-car WiFi will eventually enable uses that no one has yet envisioned.
Automotive WiFi and the Cost To Connect
For now, automotive WiFi is used primarily to create a hot spot in the vehicle to connect portable devices such as laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. As with Internet access at home and at some hotels, there's a cost for the connection.
Audi was the first to offer embedded in-car WiFi as part of the Audi Connect system starting in 2011. The service uses a T-Mobile 3G cellular modem and is available on the A4, A5, Allroad, A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7. New vehicles come with a complimentary six-month trial, after which the cost is $30 a month, $324 a year or $450 for 30 months, including unlimited data.
With the launch of the 2015 A3, Audi added AT&T as the car's wireless provider and 4G LTE capability for faster speeds. The A3 also comes with six months of free WiFi. After that, the cost is $99 for six months and up to 5GB of data, or $499 for 30 months and up to 30GB of data.
Starting in mid-2014 and working through its OnStar division, GM introduced built-in 4G LTE WiFi provided by AT&T and launched the service in certain 2015 model-year vehicles. The first three months or 3GB, whichever comes first, is free. Following this trial period, GM's in-car WiFi is available through a number of pricing plans, depending on whether the car owner is an OnStar subscriber.
Pricing ranges from $5 for 200MB of data for OnStar subscribers ($10 a month for nonsubscribers) up to $50 a month for 5GB of data regardless of whether the car owner is an OnStar subscriber. Existing AT&T customers can add a GM vehicle with WiFi to the wireless carrier's Mobile Share Plan starting at $10 a month. GM also allows owners to buy WiFi à la carte for $5 a day for 200MB of data whether or not they're OnStar subscribers.
Chrysler offers a similar pay-as-you-go WiFi service through its UConnect Access telematics system. Sprint provides the service and it goes for $9.99 a day, $19.99 a week or $34.99 a month. It doesn't require a subscription and comes with unlimited data.
Boyadjis said the à la carte options offered by Chrysler and GM work best for most drivers. "I'm probably not going to need WiFi capability in my car on a daily basis," he added. "But if I go on a road trip, I can buy it just for those three days or that week. I think going forward, other automakers should focus on this subscription model."
Bring Your Own Data or Buy Your Own Router
Ford doesn't offer built-in WiFi, but owners can add wireless connectivity to any vehicle equipped with the MyFord Touch infotainment system in two ways. First, the system can connect to a WiFi hot spot and subsequently create one in the car. So if the vehicle is parked outside of, say, a Starbucks, the driver can establish a connection. While this may do in a pinch when car occupants need connectivity (and don't want to get out of the car), it doesn't do much good while on the road.
For on-the-go WiFi, the MyFord Touch system allows users to plug a mobile broadband modem into the car's USB port. That creates a hot spot in the car, providing Internet access via the cellular connection. This way, people can use a data allotment they're already paying for with the mobile broadband modem and avoid a separate charge just for the car.
The Tesla Model S has a similar remote WiFi capability, along with a built-in 3G modem that allows its own Internet connection. The primary purpose of the WiFi feature in the Model S is to connect to an owner's home network and, if the car is parked close enough, download software updates to the car instead of through the car's 3G modem.
To get WiFi in any vehicle, Autonet Mobile offers WiFi routers as an aftermarket add-on. Autonet Mobile's WiFi router retails for $349.99 and requires a one-year service contract with a monthly service plan of $29.95 for up to 1GB of data per month or $59.95 for up to 5GB of data per month. Autonet Mobile's router runs over both 3G and 2.5G cellular data networks.
The Autonet Mobile system is also available as a dealer-installed option through Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru. It's also a factory-installed feature in certain GM, Chrysler and Maserati vehicles. The various automakers have their own pricing. GM, for example, offers the service as a prepaid option for $179 per year or $19.95 per month with a one-year commitment.
Why Do We Need In-Car WiFi?
While most car buyers may not have a need for WiFi in vehicles — or for paying a separate data plan — it's a feature that's familiar to shoppers, and as such, easy to market, said Roger Lanctot, associate director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics. "Consumer demand for in-car WiFi is low," he said. "But everybody understands WiFi, so it is something dealers don't really have to explain in order to sell."
Lanctot added that while the appeal of in-car WiFi hot spots is currently limited to on-the-go families and professionals, "it won't take a lot of users to justify the cost of implementing" the technology on the part of automakers. Boyadjis noted that the availability of WiFi is expected to grow from about 3 million vehicles globally in 2014 to more than 10 million by 2021.
Beyond creating rolling hot spots, Boyadjis predicted the more prevalent use of in-car WiFi for over-the-air software updates, as Tesla does with the Model S. This could allow automakers to remotely handle software-related recalls repairs, which would mean fewer headaches for car owners since they wouldn't have to bring their vehicles into dealerships.
Boyadjis also said that WiFi Direct is scheduled to appear in vehicles in a few years. "WiFi Direct will become a major feature for portable device integration that Bluetooth can't handle," he said. "You can't generally stream video over Bluetooth, for example."
Boyadjis added that WiFi Direct is becoming a more common feature in smartphones and tablets. Automakers have had to wait for the technology to become available in portable devices before adding it to their cars.
"With any new technology, when it's launched, the use cases and applications haven't been defined," he said. "If you look at technology adoption, when something new is developed, the innovators combine it with a service or feature to create something new," he said. "I think that will happen with in-car WiFi."
On the evening of October 19, 2002, pediatrician Greg Gulbransen walked out his front door to move the family's sport-utility vehicle into the driveway. Unbeknownst to him, his 2-year-old son Cameron followed. Gulbransen was backing up when he felt a small bump, discovering only after it was too late that he'd accidentally run over and killed the boy.
Back-up accidents involving a small child inadvertently hurt or killed by a family member driving away from home happen all too frequently. Driving safety advocate Janette Fennell even has a name for them: the bye-bye syndrome.
On March 31, 2014, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized a long-delayed regulation meant to reduce back-overs, a key part of a 2007 driving safety act named for Cameron Gulbransen. According to the federal agency, the U.S. needs such a rule to curb the accidents, which result in 15,000 injuries a year and 210 deaths. Of those, 31 percent involve children under the age of 5.
The regulation sets a 2018 deadline for rearview monitoring technology to be standard on passenger vehicles sold or leased in the United States. In most vehicles, the technology will consist of a back-up camera.
Drivers don't have to wait until 2018, though, to get a car with a camera that shows them what's behind their back bumper. Ever since Nissan's 2002 Infiniti Q45 became the first car in the United States to include a rearview camera, more manufacturers offer the gear as a standard or optional feature, for safety as well as convenience and better maneuverability.
For the 2014 model year, 46 percent of vehicles sold in the United States include a back-up camera as standard equipment , according to separate estimates from Edmunds.com and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
People don't buy a new car for the back-up camera, but if they've driven one with the device, it's hard to go back to doing without, says Fennell, founder and president of KidsandCars.org , which lobbied extensively for mandatory rearview technology. "I flip out if I have to get a rental car without it," she says.
As rearview cameras become ubiquitous, here's what you need to know about how they work, how effective they are, what car companies offer them and more:
1. Back-up camera systems will have to meet federal standards, but how they operate varies.
The button-size devices are positioned so drivers can see people or objects that are otherwise undetectable using a side or rearview mirror or by glancing over their shoulder. When NHTSA's rear visibility regulation takes effect, it will require rearview technology to display a 10-by-20-foot area directly behind the vehicle. The rule also requires systems to show the driver an image of the area no more than 2 seconds after they put the vehicle into reverse. According to the rule, 10 percent of automakers' new vehicles must have the equipment by May 1, 2016, 40 percent by May 1, 2017 and all models by May 1, 2018.
Back-up cameras send images to a display through wires inside the car, or in the case of some aftermarket equipment, wirelessly, using radio waves or a Bluetooth connection. Automakers configure back-up cameras to transmit images to a vehicle's built-in dashboard display or rearview mirror. For add-on cameras, the images go to a monitor mounted to the dashboard and a receiver plugged into the auxiliary power. Current rearview cameras have either narrow or wide, fish-eye-style lenses, for capturing images of a larger area.
Some automakers tuck the cameras out of the way until they're needed, with an eye toward improving aerodynamics and design or to keep the lens clean. The Volkswagen CC , for example, houses a back-up camera behind the VW badge on the car's trunk, just above the license plate. When the driver starts the car or puts it in reverse, the emblem flips open and the camera appears, like a cuckoo popping out of a clock. It retracts when the driver switches out of reverse or drives over 10 mph, says Thomas Zorn, Volkswagen Group of America's general manager of safety affairs.
2. By several estimates, back-up cameras can help prevent accidents.
In one recent study, close to 57 percent of drivers in vehicles equipped with back-up cameras avoided backing over a stationary object that had been placed behind the vehicle when they weren't looking. The March 2014 research report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also found that three-quarters of drivers in vehicles with both rearview cameras and audible sensors avoided a back-over accident.
By contrast, 100 percent of drivers in the IIHS study who were operating vehicles without back-up cameras or audible sensors ran over a child-size stationary object that had been surreptitiously placed behind them, according to David Zuby, chief research officer at the IIHS vehicle research center in Ruckersville, Virginia. "Our study adds to the body of evidence that's been building over several years that cameras will help avoid some of these crashes," Zuby says.
NHTSA expects rearview visibility systems that meet the final regulations' standards to be 28-33 percent more effective at avoiding back-over accidents than existing sensor-only systems.
By 2054, when most U.S. vehicles on the road will have rearview systems, the technology should save 58-69 lives a year, according to data NHTSA released with the final rule. By that time, the agency estimates the total benefit from rearview technology to preventing injuries, saving lives and avoiding property should be $265 million to $396 million a year.
3. Cameras can add big costs to new cars. But it's not really their fault.
Initially, rearview cameras were part of optional bundles on vehicles' costlier trim levels. One reason was that systems needed an in-dash display to work, and those screens only came on the most expensive models. Another reason, according to Fennell with KidsandCars.org, is that automakers know people like cameras, and so manufacturers have been attaching them to the highest trim levels.
To get a camera, "you have to pay $2,000 because it's stuck with the leather seats and wood-grain steering wheel and heated and chilled cupholders," she says. "It's become a huge money maker."
Adding an options package that includes rearview technology can indeed tack on several thousand dollars to the sticker price. For example, the starting price for the base trim level 2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S, which doesn't include a rearview camera, is $20,995. That compares to the starting price of $25,875 for the higher-end trim level 2014 Passat 1.8T SE, which includes a rearview camera, multifunction in-dash display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum-alloy wheels and all-weather tires and other upgrades.
Ford's suggested retail price for the base trim level 2105 Ford Fiesta S hatchback (1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission), which comes without a rearview camera system, is $15,680, compared with a $19,630 sticker price for the higher trim level 2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium hatchback , which bundles the camera system with such features as leather seats, heated mirrors and premium speakers.
4. Cameras are migrating to less expensive models and trim levels.
Once they're separated from other features, rearview camera systems aren't that expensive. NHTSA estimates that adding back-up cameras and displays that comply with the new regulations will cost manufacturers $132-$142 more per vehicle, or $43-$45 for vehicles with an existing screen that can display the required image field.
Perhaps in anticipation of the mandatory-equipment regulation, rearview systems are migrating down from manufacturers' top models and trim levels. Close to half of all 2014 model-year cars include back-up cameras as standard equipment. Of 2,359 styles included in Edmunds.com's database of 2014 vehicles, 1,007 have back-up cameras as standard equipment.
Here is a complete list of 2014 model-year cars that have rearview cameras as standard equipment. It also shows the camera-equipped 2015 models on the market now.
Shoppers will find cameras as standard equipment in such moderately priced top sellers as the 2014 Honda Civic , including base LX trim level, and the base L trim level of the 2014 Toyota Camry .
So far, though, they haven't found their way to several of the least expensive vehicles on the market, or the lowest trim levels of some popular cars. For example, you can find rearview cameras on some trim levels of the 2014 Toyota Corolla, but not on any 2014 Toyota Yaris. The thrifty 2014 Kia Rio has a rearview camera as standard equipment in the top-of-the-line SX trim level, but it's not available (even as an option) on the base LX trim level. The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ, the model's top trim level, has a rearview camera as standard equipment. But don't look for it in the base LS trim level. You won't find a camera in the diminutive 2014 Chevrolet Spark. Ditto for the budget-friendly 2014 Nissan Versa.
5. Adding a back-up camera is fairly easily.
You don't need to buy a new car to get a back-up camera, though, or spend a lot to add one to an existing vehicle. Retailers such as CarToys , Best Buy and Amazon.com sell aftermarket systems for less than $15 for a bottom-of-the-line stand-alone camera for vehicles that have existing in-dash displays. A complete setup with a camera, transmitter and display can run up to $300.
One aftermarket system is the QuickVu , a $259 system with a rearview camera that mounts to the license plate holder and uses radio signals to transmit images from up to 50-60 feet in back of a vehicle to a 3.5-inch monitor mounted on the dash, and digital signals to turn the system on and off.
Installing a back-up camera on an existing car isn't difficult. Some require only a screwdriver, while others require a drill to mount the camera into a rear bumper cover. Some aftermarket camera makers post videos on their Web sites to help DIYers with step-by-step set up instructions, and many auto parts retailers do installations.
6. Grime, weather and time of day can affect how a camera functions.
Whether they're factory installed or aftermarket equipment, rearview cameras don't need much more maintenance than a periodic wipe-down to clear away accumulated grime from the camera lens. In heavy rain or snow, auto company representatives and aftermarket camera sellers suggest checking before you drive off to make sure the lens isn't obscured.
Some automakers have come up with clever ways to keep rearview cameras clean. Select 2014 Nissan Altima, 2014 Nissan Rogue and 2014 Nissan Murano models have a built-in rearview camera cleaning system that sprays water from a small tank to clean the lens, and then squirts a puff of air to dry it.
Even though back-up cameras can help prevent accidents, automakers and retailers warn drivers not to rely on them completely. Drivers should continue checking side and rearview mirrors, and look over their shoulder to see what's in back of them. "There are certainly sometimes conditions where performance of the system might be not as optimal as in other conditions. That's one reason we've had our systems focused on being an aid," says Tony Baehner, Nissan's chief spokesman on back-up camera technology. "If visibility is limited and it's dark and you can't see, a camera of any system is going to be sensitive to some of those."
Manufacturers also instruct auto dealers to give anyone buying a new or used car with a back-up camera system a walkthrough of the system before they drive off the lot so they understand how it works.
7. Back-up cameras may prevent accidents, but they might not lead to lower insurance rates.
NHTSA and IIHS may be convinced that rearview systems save lives, but auto insurers could take decades to adjust rates for customers who use them, and one insurance industry representative says even if rates drop, the decrease could be tiny.
For insurers to give discounts, insurance actuaries would have to compare data from sufficiently large pools of vehicles with and without the systems to determine whether the cameras make a difference. That won't happen any time soon, since NHTSA predicts it will be 2054 before all U.S. cars on the road have back-up systems, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute , an industry trade group.
In addition, once all U.S. vehicles have rearview systems, the equipment is expected to save a relatively small number of lives — fewer than 70 a year — compared with tens of thousands of people killed in traffic accidents. As a result, any rate decrease could amount to "well under $1 per policy," Worters says.
But, she says, "there may be fewer accidents because people back into less stuff, which could justify a discount on bodily injury, property damage and collision."
Instead, technologies such as collision avoidance systems and telematics show more promise for providing trackable data that could lead to lower insurance rates, she says.
At least one insurer sees things a little differently. According to State Farm spokesman Sevag Sarkissian, back-up cameras could lead to lower car insurance rates if makes and models that have them wind up in fewer accidents. State Farm doesn't provide discounts for specific vehicle safety equipment, but does collect claims information for specific makes and models, Sarkissian says. "To the extent a specific type of vehicle safety technology that is standard on a particular make and model of vehicle is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of crashes, it will be reflected in our claims data," he says. As a result, particular makes and models may have lower insurance premiums, he says.
8. Back-up cameras are helpful for more than avoiding accidents. Wait until you see the camera technology that's coming next.
Though intended to serve as safety devices, back-up cameras also can be used to help drivers do a better job of backing into a parking spot or hitching a trailer.
Nissan offers an around-view monitoring system on certain 2014 Pathfinder, Quest, Rogue and Versa Note models that comprises four cameras mounted on the license plate holder, front grille and side mirrors. The setup is designed to be a parking aid and has become a big selling point, according to Nissan. Customers "are typically wowed by the feature," says Baehner, the Nissan manager. "Most of our research shows they are highly desired features." Once you have them, they want them, he says.
Ford's highly touted all-aluminum 2015 F-150 truck will also feature four cameras — on the front grille, rear bumper and side mirrors — for better maneuverability, with images transmitted to an 8-inch touchscreen in-dash display.
Aftermarket camera manufacturer Trail Ridge Technologies LLC, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is working on an upgraded, all-digital version of the company's QuickVu device that will work over Bluetooth. The company is also developing an all-digital back-up camera system for trucks and RVs that will show more than 50 feet behind a vehicle, and can be used for hitching a trailer. Trail Ridge owner Bob Morain expects the updated systems to be out in summer 2014.
In coming model years, expect to see automakers adding other types of cameras to cars, SUVs and trucks for maneuverability, better aerodynamics and fun. At 2014 auto shows, Land Rover made a splash with a concept off-road vehicle with a hood-mounted camera that captures pictures of upcoming terrain and feeds them to a head-up display at the bottom of the windshield to create a 3-D map.
Also at 2014 auto shows, Nissan showed a concept version of the Rogue with a rearview "smart" mirror , an LCD display that doubles as a back-up camera. The company plans to offer the smart rearview mirror in Japan later in 2014, and in other markets at an as-yet-undisclosed date, according to company officials.
Tesla is experimenting with replacing sideview mirrors with cameras to improve vehicles' aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. The company and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers have filed petitions with NHTSA seeking permission to use cameras in place of sideview mirrors , which are required under U.S. auto safety laws. Volkswagen recently got an exemption from European auto safety rules to road test 200 XL1 concept cars that have cameras instead of sideview mirrors. The goal: to see how sideview cameras work, and whether drivers like them, says Zorn, the company's safety affairs general manager.
High-speed data connections and carmaker alliances with smartphone operating systems were some of the biggest trends at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Mazda showed how automakers are making infotainment systems easier to use and less distracting for drivers. CES 2014 was also the year when wearable technology (like smart watches), first started to interface with cars you can buy. Finally, Toyota offered us a glimpse of a future beyond gas cars and "conventional" electric vehicles, showcasing its hydrogen fuel cell prototype vehicle.
Good-Bye 3G, Hello 4G LTE
If there's one thing CES is guilty of, it's making you feel like the shiny new piece of tech you bought last year is obsolete. At the last CES, having a 3G cellular connection in a vehicle was touted as the greatest and latest innovation. It barely got an automotive foothold, showing up in just a few cars, such as the Audi A8 and the Ram 1500.
Flash-forward to CES 2014, and we have something even faster: LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution. It's a 4G technology that promises speeds 10 times faster than 3G. This year, the 2015 Audi A3 sedan and a number of 2015 Chevrolet vehicles will offer 4G LTE on the AT&T network.
Do you really need high-speed access to the Web in your car? Maybe. One of the major benefits to having an embedded modem in the vehicle is that it can use the Web to download apps and updates from the manufacturer without having to make a trip to the dealer.
An LTE connection gives the Audi the speed it needs to download graphically intensive Google Earth maps with street view. It also is fast enough to stream video and provide Wi-Fi hotspots for passengers.
This high-speed connection is great, but it isn't free. Pricing plans weren't formally announced at CES, but we expect them to resemble what is currently available. Once the free trials run out, expect to pay roughly $25 per month. Want to bring your grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan with you? It won't work. As of now, auto data plans remain separate from the smartphone plans.
Android in Cars
Audi discussed its entry into the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) at this year's CES. The OAA is an affiliation of automakers Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and tech companies Nvidia and Google. Their goal is to bring the Android operating system to upcoming vehicles. Why Android and not Apple? Three reasons: First, Audi already had an established relationship with Google, since they partnered to use Google mapping data. Second, the Android operating system is an open platform and is more developer-friendly than Apple's. And third, there are just more Android phones out in the world. A recent study by IDC showed that Android accounted for 81 percent of all smartphone shipments in the third quarter of 2013.
This means that upcoming Audi vehicles will have all the functions of the Android operating system, including the Google Play store to download apps. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can play Angry Birds or watch YouTube videos from the infotainment screen, however. There are still safety considerations to keep in mind. But if your passengers are set on doing those things in the car while you've got your eyes on the road, Audi's got you covered.
The Audi Smart Display is a 10-inch brushed aluminum tablet that is meant to live in your car and provide vehicle information and all the other functions of an Android-based tablet. It is a durable piece of hardware, too, designed to withstand high temperatures and even hold up in a crash. Audi didn't give further details on price or a date when this tech will be available to car shoppers.
Better Infotainment Controls To Reduce Distraction
Automakers, no longer hampered by the packaging constraints of an old stereo system, now have the flexibility to design new infotainment systems that seek to be safer and more intuitive to use.
Mazda had a 2014 Mazda 3 on hand to demonstrate its next-generation infotainment system, Mazda Connect. The system was designed to reduce distraction with a simple user interface that has a consistent look, regardless of the function the driver is using.
The "Heads Up Cockpit" system divides the cabin into two sections, said David Matthew, vehicle line manager for the Mazda 3. All the pertinent driving information is on the left side of the screen (speed, trip information and fuel, for instance). The comfort items, such as climate and infotainment, are on the right. Even the 7-inch screen's placement on the dashboard and the font it uses for display were carefully chosen to maximize readability at a glance, said Matthew.
The Mazda Connect has redundant physical controls, which gives passengers the choice of a touchscreen or a control knob. Matthew prefers that drivers use the "Commander Knob," which was designed for use without taking eyes off the road. The driver's palm rests in the center of the knob, while each finger can easily reach the five buttons.
Making Fuel Cell Vehicles More Economically Feasible
"For years, the use of hydrogen gas to power automobiles has been seen by many smart people as a foolish quest," said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota, "but change takes persistence."
Carter announced that Toyota's decades of experience with hybrid technology in the Prius and its own fuel cell research since 2002 have finally reached the point where the carmaker can offer a hydrogen-powered vehicle to consumers for a "very affordable price."
The Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) — just a concept car so far — is a four-passenger sedan with a range of 300 miles. It takes 3-5 minutes to refuel and only emits water vapor from its tailpipe. The fuel cells take oxygen and hydrogen and convert them to electricity that powers the vehicle.
Fuel cell vehicles are much more efficient than gas- or battery-powered electric vehicles. The FCV's fuel cell output will be more than 100 kilowatts.
"A fully fueled vehicle will be capable of supplying enough energy to power a small house for a week in an emergency," said Carter, "which is why we are developing an external power supply device."
Toyota's fuel cell test mules have logged hundreds of thousands of miles in Japan, the carmaker said. It also has had rigorous testing in the U.S., including in below-zero temperatures in the Rocky Mountains and harsh desert heat in Death Valley.
The Toyota FCV will debut in 2015 in California. Toyota did not release pricing.
There are only 10 hydrogen fueling stations currently in California, but the state is committed to having 40 stations there by the end of 2016. It may not sound like many, but as Carter says, "we don't need a gas station on every corner."
Toyota is working closely with the state to place these stations in locations where they can serve the most people. The target is to have a station six minutes away from a FCV owner's home or workplace.
Wearable Tech That Interfaces With Cars
This year's CES marked the first time we saw the interaction between wearable technology and cars. Developers for Mercedes-Benz were showing off Pebble smartwatches running the Digital Drive Style App . The Drive Style app will display basic car information on the smartwatch, as well as vibrating alerts of upcoming traffic or accidents on the road.
Similarly, BMW showed off a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch with an app that ran its "i Remote" app for use with the upcoming 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle. The i Remote app will display information on the battery's charge status and remaining range. The application can also show whether the doors and windows are closed and can adjust the climate control. The app will even recognize voice commands to give it navigation directions.
Time will tell if smartwatches and the other products showcased at the 2014 CES will be more than fads. But that's what CES is all about: launching what seem like far-out ideas (remember when car apps seemed a little futuristic?) and seeing which ones land and grow into products tech-hungry car buyers can actually use.
Enough with complaining that the exciting automotive future promised by your favorite childhood shows and movies never materialized. They weren't fantasies. They were just very ahead of their time. Every tech improvement in the car industry has been leading us to that exciting future. The irritating beeping of an overly sensitive lane departure warning system in a family sedan leads us along a chain all the way to a vast future network of driverless electric pods at your beck and call. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Give innovators 10 years (give or take), and they will revolutionize the way you drive.
1. Autonomous Cars
You've heard of this one already. This is the car that drives itself , thanks to cameras, sensors, radar, lasers and magic. The most well-known autonomous car program is Google's , which has been around (and succeeding) for years now, but most automakers also are working with technology that will make autonomous cars a reality in the next decade. Nissan is promising such a car in even less time: by 2020. Some of the "active safety" technologies that act strictly as driver assistance in production cars today are evolving into the systems that will allow the vehicle to take complete control of the driving process in the near future. These include adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, lane-centering and parking assist.
In fact, the presence of these active safety features in production cars is a crucial step toward convincing the driving public that self-driving cars are OK; they are the seeds planted in the minds of car owners that will eventually grow into an attitude of acceptance of autonomous cars. At publication time, three states (Nevada, Florida and California) had enacted legislation to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on their roads for testing purposes — another important step.
Those of us who actually enjoy driving might be thinking, "Hold up. Why would I ever give up the wheel to a computer program?" One answer is that, in theory, a fleet of autonomous cars will seriously reduce traffic, vehicle accidents and fatalities. That's hard to argue against. The other answer is that self-driving cars will be truly excellent for the daily commute. Get some work done while your car drives you to work. Read. Call your mother. You can save your non-autonomous car for weekend canyon-carving at the Asphalt Aspen driving resorts that will surely be developed for that purpose.
2. EV Extravaganza: Cheaper High-Range Electric Cars Abetted by Nationwide Quick-Charge Networks
There are two why-I-wouldn't-buy-an-EV explanations that people pull out of their back pockets when pressed: "They're too expensive" and "How will I take a road trip?"
Let's tackle that first one. Yes, electric cars are currently more expensive to purchase than their gas-only or even hybrid counterparts. A lot of that extra cost has to do with the cost of batteries, specifically the lithium-ion batteries that are often used in EVs (and cell phones, too). Until the cost of those Li-ion batteries drops, EV prices will remain high.
Luckily, researchers are working on ways to improve Li-ion batteries, and experts agree that battery cost will drop in the coming years. One possibility for cost reduction is the further development of lithium-polymer batteries, which could potentially be lighter, more adaptable, more rugged and cheaper to produce.
At the University of Wollongong in Australia, professors of nano-material engineering have had a breakthrough . They used a material based on germanium, an element abundantly found in the earth's crust, to increase the energy storage capabilities of Li-ion batteries by five times their usual capacity. And though the price of germanium will need to go down a bit to make these improvements more affordable, the point is that we have options for improvement.
So: Improved storage will reduce price and increase range. Bring on the road trip. We just need somewhere to charge along the way. Enter the automakers to build the filling stations of the future.
Nissan, maker of the popular Leaf EV , has announced a partnership with quick-charge provider CarCharging to add 48 chargers in California and select spots on the East Coast. Dozens more quick-chargers have been installed in select states under a pair of federal-private programs operated by ChargePoint and Ecotality . And as any Tesla Model S owner worth his HOV lane sticker will tell you, Elon Musk has already built 21 high-speed electric charging stations (nine in California; three in Connecticut; two in Florida, Texas and Washington state; and one each in Delaware, Illinois, and Oregon as of this writing), with many, many more planned. Tesla is also adding a battery pack swap service at these charging stations for customers who are in a real rush.
Right now, Tesla's stations are only open to Tesla drivers (charging is free; the battery swap is not). But as manufacturers watch Tesla's and Nissan's charging-station development plans, chances are good that more will jump on the bandwagon. That means it's not crazy to expect that you'll be able to drive an EV cross-country to Grandma's house in a reasonable amount of time before you're very much older.
3. Next-Gen Active Safety Features
Active safety features (forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and the like) have been available for years, but the next class of heavy-duty driver assistance is coming into view. Consider the super multiview head-up display . While a traditional head-up windshield display projects a few pieces of key information (how fast you're going, what gear you're in) to reduce the driver's need to take her eyes off the road and look at the instrument panel, the super multiview head-up display brings this idea into the future, with lots more info and high-tech improvements.
Imagine road warnings, turn-by-turn navigation arrows indicating your next turn or street names appearing virtually in the distance. Think about separate displays for the driver and the passenger, allowing the passenger to input destinations into the navigation system or watch videos without risk of distracting the driver.
Someday you might even be able to drive safely in heavy fog with a head-up display that is integrated with adaptive cruise control and in-car cameras. Through an augmented reality display on the windshield (much like a video game version of the actual world around you), the system re-creates what the fog hides and enhances your ability to see lane markings, cars and the sides of the road in low-visibility driving conditions.
Speaking of outside forces that can challenge a driver's abilities, let's talk about distractions, and how we'll dispense with them in the future. Phone calls, crowded roadways, bad weather and more can conspire to distract a driver from the most important task at hand: driving safely. Automakers are working on integrating biometric sensing systems into their cars to help manage the stress the driver feels. Here's how Ford's version, the Driver Workload Estimator , works.
Sensors embedded in the driver's contact points with the car (seat, steering wheel and seatbelt) collect, measure and analyze heart rate, breathing and perspiration. They combine that data with information collected from the car's surroundings, plus driver input via the gas pedal, brake pedal and steering. The system then manages how much infotainment and communication the driver experiences, depending on the overall workload he's handling. An example: In heavy, erratic traffic on a hot day, sensing the driver's rising heart rate and quick breathing, as well as rapid switching from gas to brake pedal and back, the car engages the "Do Not Disturb" signal in its telemetry system, delaying phone calls, quieting the audio system and eliminating other distractions until it is safe to reintroduce them.
Finally, something that we may see as early as 2014 from Cadillac is hands-off adaptive cruise control , which keeps the car in the center of the lane and a safe distance from the car in front of it (Cadillac calls its version "Super Cruise"). Using data from cameras, radar and ultrasonic systems, the system responds more rapidly to traffic fluctuations than a human operator can and keeps the vehicle in its lane without any input from the driver.
4. Car-to-Car and Car-to-Object Communication
It won't let you tell off the driver in the sport coupe who just cut you off, but car-to-car communication is definitely something in your automotive future. Using in-car sensors and transmitters built into roadside devices, connected cars are able to send and receive speed and location data to and from each other using dedicated short-range communication (similar to Wi-Fi). The goal of the system is to improve the flow of traffic, avoid collisions (or at least reduce their severity) and alert drivers to upcoming traffic situations so they can take any necessary action. All this would be accomplished through near-field communication using sensors and transmitters stationed on the road.
In 2012, the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, partnering with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, began a year-long test of 2,800 "intelligent cars" in Ann Arbor. It is the largest undertaking of its kind in North America. In addition to transmitting safety-related data, connected vehicles can let a driver know if a stoplight will be changing soon and in the right, safe circumstances, change red lights to green. One bonus feature of all this data collection: hyper-accurate real-time traffic reporting, thanks to the technology already in the car.
5. Networked Cars
For millions of people living in large, crowded urban areas, the networked car could be just the revolution they need. Part electric taxi-for-hire, part highly personalized public transportation, networked cars are autonomous electric pods that can talk to each other. A good example is GM's EN-V (electric networked vehicle) concept. The EN-V is a two-seat driverless electric vehicle that shares speed, location and availability information with all the other cars in its network via wireless communication.
If you need to get somewhere, you "call" for a networked car via a smartphone app or computer. An electric pod shows up at your location, you get inside and punch in where you need to go. The pod calculates the best route, thanks to the real-time traffic info it accesses via its network, and starts off. It can recalculate as necessary. The pod drops you off at your destination and leaves to take another passenger somewhere or goes to a nearby recharging station to juice up, if necessary. Science fiction, you say? General Motors plans to run significant tests of the second generation of the EN-V in multiple large cities around the world by 2020. Experts point out the independence that networked cars like these can give to segments of the population who currently cannot drive, like the elderly, mobility-challenged and the very young.
6. Flying Cars
The darn thing's got wings. Or possibly rotors. Sure, the idea of a flying car is nothing new. The first attempt at a car that could fly was way back in 1917. It was called the Curtiss Autoplane, and it hopped. It didn't take long before the entertainment industry got in on the act. From the Jetsons' car and the Weasley family's flying Ford Anglia to the Spinners of the movie Blade Runner and everyone's favorite DeLorean piloted by Doc Brown in Back to the Future , TV and movies have long been filled with our flying-car fantasies.
But what about a viable production flying car? Well, there are many modern companies working on a car that can take to the skies from the driveways of the masses. One of them is Massachusetts-based Terrafugia . The company's drivable plane, called the Transition, made its first public flight demonstrations in July 2013 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Up next on Terrafugia's to-do list is the TF-X. This one is part helicopter, part plug-in hybrid car, part autonomous street-legal car. With the TF-X, you input your destination as you would with a nav system and take off vertically from your driveway. The computer takes care of the rest, including all the flying and the landing. Terrafugia says its production version of the TF-X is 8-12 years away. Realistically, the initial applications of this type of vehicle will be limited to emergency services vehicles, law enforcement and ultra-rich people. But that's what they used to say about iPhones, and look where we are now.
We've gathered in a converted warehouse in San Francisco's trendy South of Market neighborhood, home to some of the biggest names in tech . Sitting at long work benches, we bend over small circuit boards with soldering guns, attaching chips and transistors while trying not to singe ourselves — or the electronics.
It may not look like it, but we're developing car apps, and we're starting from scratch. TJ Giuli and Sudipto Aich, two researchers from Ford Motor Company's Silicon Valley Lab, are showing me and a roomful of software developers how to use OpenXC , an open-source (Linux-based) platform created by Ford for developing in-dash software.
OpenXC is meant purely "for rapid prototyping and do-it-yourself exploration," Giuli says. Unlike the Sync infotainment platform in Ford cars, which has its own API and app development process, OpenXC is designed to encourage developers to experiment with car apps that Ford itself would never dare imagine. According to Giuli, Ford needed to "create a system that allows individuals to do something completely different than we ever would have thought of, or intended to do."
The individuals at the workshop have intentions, all right. They pepper Aich and Giuli with questions about how far OpenXC could push into the car.
"Can we get into the infotainment system?"
"No," says Giuli. "Infotainment systems are typically the most complex and powerful computers in a car, and so typically if you're doing it right there's a ton of security around it." Darn.
"The data traffic is one way?" asked another.
"Yes," says Giuli.
"So what's the point?"
"There's quite a lot you can do with just knowing what the car can do in real time," Giuli counters. Still, more than one attendee looks visibly disappointed.
Apps Develop Faster Than Cars Do
Automakers know they have an app challenge. As they design cars to be more connected — with infotainment systems, with people's smartphones and with direct cellular service — drivers will naturally begin treating their cars like any other mobile device. They'll want to personalize it. They'll want to interact with it. And they'll want to use apps with it.
The fast, adventuresome world of app development doesn't mesh well with the slower, careful world of automobile development. "These companies don't make apps, they sell cars," says Mark C. Boyadjis, senior analyst and manager at IHS, referring to Ford and GM, the most progressive companies when it comes to app development. Saddled with the responsibility of designing safe, reliable vehicles, automakers can take several years for new technology to see the light of day. That's eons in app time.
The automakers move cautiously for a reason, of course: If you download a bad app and it bricks your phone, it's simply annoying. But if you download a bad app and it bricks your car, it's potentially a deadly mistake.
Yet it's not a big stretch to imagine a near future when people will evaluate a car's app ecosystem the same way they would for any other mobile device. If the car doesn't support the apps users want, they might choose another car that does. "Ford and GM understand that the connected lifestyle is in the car," says Boyadjis, "and they need to adapt to it."
With the OpenXC workshops (happening nationwide through TechShop ), Ford is inviting developers to tinker freely. "Ford and GM are pioneering app development in the car in a way very different from the way that other automakers have approached it," says Boyadjis. "They literally are offering up their software and their reference platforms."
"Automakers have always developed technology in-house or with a vendor, which can take years," says Edmunds.com Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya. "Open source will allow Ford to innovate and test technology at a faster clip."
How To Build a Car App
Back at TechShop in San Francisco, the circuit boards we've built will drive a tachometer-like Retro Gauge , fitted with a plastic housing and needle made by 3D printers onsite. The Retro Gauge serves as a display for various OpenXC apps, providing real-time visual feedback on everything from engine rpm to your steering wheel angle.
OpenXC has two primary components: an Android app that you develop, and a hardware interface that plugs into the OBD-II (onboard diagnostics) port of a car. The interface uses Bluetooth to send data to the laptop or Android tablet running the OpenXC app. The Retro Gauge attaches to the laptop or tablet via USB.
The guinea pig for our apps and gauges is a Ford Focus Electric car parked nearby. Ford researchers Giuli and Aich provide some simple apps for developers to use if they haven't finished their own yet. With one of the apps, for instance, developers could turn the car's steering wheel and see the wheel's angle display on the LED readout on the Retro Gauge.
Ford's OpenXC Platform Web site currently lists 19 kinds of data that can be read by an OpenXC app, including transmission torque, windshield wiper status and fuel level.
When asked whether additional data would become available, Giuli answers, "Hell, yes." He's as eager as the rest of us are. "This is research that allows us to make a bold set of statements," Giuli says. "We're going to make this open source, expose the data." It's a statement that definitely takes Ford out of its comfort zone as a corporation, Giuli adds: "Even taking data out of the car is a huge argument [within Ford]."
Where to, App?
Spending several hours making a hardware gauge took time away from coding, but Giuli says it helps developers see the potential of OpenXC. "When people have something physical that they can plug into the car, and see that there's actual communication between the device and the car, they get excited."
Whether any of these developers' apps will end up in a Ford car is uncertain. Giuli emphasizes that OpenXC is not designed for product development. "What we do in research is develop something, go out on a limb, push boundaries and impact product," Giuli says. "What are the lessons we can learn from OpenXC, and how can we translate that into a product?"
And that two-way communication, so forbidden, and yet so keenly desired by some workshop attendees? Giuli doesn't rule it out entirely. "Applying active behavior to the car is something we're actively researching," Giuli says. "We're holding a hackathon at TechShop Menlo Park to actively explore writing to the car."
Once again, the geeks are leading the way.
Copyright TechHive.com. All rights reserved. First published on TechHive.com and reprinted with permission.
Bluetooth began as a feature found only in high-end cars, introduced as a way to make hands-free phone calls behind the wheel. The auto industry standard for wirelessly connecting portable devices has since become a prevalent feature in most new vehicles. As smartphones become the preferred method for delivering Internet-based content to car infotainment systems, Bluetooth provides the nearly indispensable link.
But vehicle owners still grind their teeth as they try to resolve incompatibility issues between the Bluetooth technology on their devices and the systems in their cars. These glitches are mainly due to the differences in the speed at which the consumer electronics and automotive industries move. "Automotive works at one cycle and mobile devices work at another cycle," says Doron Elliott, Ford's Bluetooth global lead.
A phone that you buy today was likely developed within the last year or so, while a new car and its electronics could have been designed four years ago. The lifespans of the two products are also very dissimilar. "Consumers purchase a new vehicle on average every five years but replace their phones every two," Elliott says.
In addition, the software and firmware on phones can be continually updated, while a car's infotainment software cannot, for the most part. "Device software and firmware updates take place multiple times per year," Elliott says.
This all leads to disparities between Bluetooth technology in a phone and in a car, and to headaches for car owners.
The good news is that since Bluetooth is becoming more common, automakers are making it easier for consumers to use it. They also are adding more Bluetooth features to their systems. The bad news is that as they do so, consumers are confronted with new ways for things to go wrong.
For example, many automakers now offer Bluetooth audio, which allows users to wirelessly stream music from a compatible phone to a car's stereo system. But some vehicles require two pairings: one for hands-free calling and one for music. That's not always clear to car owners, particularly if they haven't read the car's infotainment manual. These days, those books often run to more than 100 pages.
"Consumers are more aware of Bluetooth and certain things have become easier," Elliott says. "But it's added to some of the complexity for consumers to understand all the new features in their car, and it's still a learning curve for them."
"All this points to the current reality, which is that Bluetooth connections are still a problem," says Roger Lanctot, associate director of Global Automotive Practice at the market research firm Strategy Analytics.
Here are some of the ways in which Bluetooth is now easier to use, including some of its new applications and a few ideas on how to avoid its more annoying entanglements before you buy a car.
The Holy Grail of Easier Pairing
Before you can use Bluetooth, you have to be able to pair your smartphone or other portable device with your vehicle. This is still one of the biggest hurdles for car owners to overcome.
In most vehicles, the pairing process involves initiating a search for a device via the head unit (the brains and command center for a car's audio system) and then on the phone.
Once the car and the phone "find" each other, the user enters a PIN code to connect them. Every carmaker's approach is a little different, however, and the pairing process is not always as seamless as it should be. One bright spot is that once you've paired your phone, you don't generally have to do it again until you buy a new one.
Nevertheless, automakers want to make the initial process easier, and so have started to implement what's known as Secure Simple Pairing (SSP), which requires less user interaction. With SSP, a one-time six-digit key displays at the time of pairing on both the device and the car, replacing the PIN code. Once the user confirms that the keys match, the two devices are paired.
Although Bluetooth SSP was introduced in 2007, it's just now starting to appear in new cars. Mark Boyadjis, an automotive electronics analyst with IHS Global, named more than a dozen car models' infotainment systems that now have the feature. SSP generally is more prevalent on infotainment systems and less often available on base model cars with more elementary Bluetooth capabilities, he says.
While SSP can help when it's available, Lanctot adds that it's not well understood by dealers or buyers.
Several years ago, Bluetooth audio had the same problem. Although Bluetooth audio has been around even longer than SSP, it's only recently caught on with car buyers, thanks to the popularity of the streaming music service Pandora and its integration into cars.
New Bluetooth Features
In addition to making pairing easier, automakers are adding Bluetooth features to their cars:
The Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) allows drivers to use the car's controls to skip tracks, pause and resume playback of music streamed from smartphones. The latest AVRCP implementation can also show artist name, album and song title and album art on a car's in-dash display.
Message Access Profile (MAP) allows smartphone text messages to be displayed or read aloud by a car's infotainment system. MAP can also send automatic responses or a "do not disturb" message in response to an incoming text.
The Serial Port Profile (SPP) Bluetooth spec allows a car to connect to the Internet via a smartphone to download traffic information, access online search engines to find navigation destinations and connect to social media networks. Ford's Sync AppLink and Toyota's Entune system both use SPP to connect with supported apps, for example.
"Smartphone accommodation is at a critical turning point in the industry," says Lanctot. "Honda has pointed the way with ads touting Pandora integration via smartphone last year, and BMW has been using smartphone integration as a car-selling tool in its advertising."
Most smartphones use Bluetooth to link the car and the Internet to deliver cloud-based content. One notable exception is Apple's iPhone, which requires a wired connection in order to work with such automaker application suites as HondaLink and Ford Sync AppLink .
Apple was slow to include Bluetooth audio within its tightly controlled "walled garden" product ecosystem and only recently included Bluetooth MAP.
The company is expected to take the same tethered approach with the recently announced iOS for the Car feature that will be part of its upcoming iOS 7 software release. iOS for the Car will allow drivers to access navigation maps, receive text messages and more, but only if they own an Apple device and a vehicle with the feature.
While Apple prefers to bypass Bluetooth and its problems whenever possible, Bluetooth alternatives are starting to appear for drivers who use phones that run on Android or other operating systems. Boyadjis notes that the latest Bluetooth 3.0 +HS specification allows for implementation of Bluetooth and WiFi on a single chip. "This will enable Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity through the same system," he says.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS and XTS with the CUE system were the first vehicles to launch with Bluetooth 3.0 +HS. Boyadjis predicts that the spec will be available on more than 40 million devices by 2018. Because of this, and because more cars are gaining WiFi capability, Elliot says that some features that are normally delivered via Bluetooth, such as streaming music and other content from smartphones, could also soon operate over WiFi within the car.
Another emerging technology that may help iron out some of the kinks in Bluetooth is Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows for simple proximity pairing, but has been proposed for everything from easily activating a GPS navigation app on a smartphone to using the device as a key to open a car's doors .
In the case of Bluetooth pairing, "you put your phone on an NFC pad in the car and it will pair it for you: no user interaction needed," Boyadjis says. He adds that NFC is quickly making its way into many mobile devices.
But while NFC could allow effortless device pairing, it may not be a silver bullet for Bluetooth issues, says Elliott.
"I think there needs to be a bit of caution in that as we seek to overcome one interoperability challenge, we don't create another" he says. "Devices that support NFC don't all support it for the use of Bluetooth pairing. In concept it's a great idea, but I think we have to be cautious about it."
Try Before You Buy
To avoid incompatibility issues, it's a good idea to be sure your smartphone or other mobile device will work with a car you're thinking of buying. These Edmunds articles, "Bluetooth Basics," "How to Test-Drive a Bluetooth System" and "Bluetooth Tech Checklist for Car Shoppers" can help you better understand the technology while you're shopping for a vehicle. Be sure to pair your device as part of your test-drive and to check out all the features a vehicle has (or doesn't have) before you decide to buy.
Barreling down a Michigan highway, I'm riding shotgun with Ibro Muharemovic behind the wheel. There's a semi on one side of us and a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee up ahead. I've just met Muharemovic, and it dawns on me at 65 mph that I have no idea whether he's a good driver or an accident waiting to happen.
Then I shake my head at my silliness. It doesn't matter whether he can drive. The car's doing all the work.
We're in Muharemovic's baby, a black-on-black Volkswagen Passat his employer outfitted with a plethora of cameras, computers, radars, infrared sensors, pitch and yaw sensors, motion sensors, servo motors and the like to turn it into an autonomous vehicle.
Muharemovic works for the German international tire and automotive components supply giant Continental AG, where he is technical project manager for Continental's automatic driving program . In the past year or so he's logged more than 16,000 miles of mainly hands-free and foot-free driving in Continental's prototype. It's been accident-free, too, he lets me know.
Continental's controls haven't been limited to its own test cars. The company supplied many of the pieces used by Google in its ongoing driverless-car program. It also is partnering with BMW on autonomous vehicle development.
Humans Still Needed
Our Passat, which has its badges blacked out because the project has no connection with Volkswagen, isn't fully automatic. A human driver still has to take it out of its parking space and put it onto the road. The human must remain in the driver seat, and once the car's technology starts working its magic, he or she has to pay attention to the road and the instrument-panel readouts. Full autonomy is still a bit down the road.
But after planting us firmly on the freeway near Continental's U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Muharemovic flicks the cruise-control lever forward, triggering the automatic drive system.
Several icons on the specially designed center stack display light up. A large image appears showing the car, the lane we're in, and the traffic ahead and alongside of us. Radar beams radiate from the front and sides of the car icon, indicating that all systems are operating and searching the road for obstacles, lane markers and traffic that must be dealt with.
A smaller screen inset at the top left side of the display shows the camera's view of the same scene. The illuminated illustration is easier to see and understand, though, so that's what we watch.
The Car Takes Over
Muharemovic places his hands on his knees, firmly sets his feet on the floor alongside the pedals and over the next few miles of this short demonstration explains in layman's terms how it all works.
The car uses its stock electronic power steering and brake systems. But it's augmented with Continental's lane detection and centering system, traffic sign detection and identification program, steering control sensors and actuators and adaptive cruise control. That system brakes the car to slow down and even to come to a full stop, if necessary, to avoid running into the vehicle ahead.
A stereoscopic camera mounted high up on the windshield frame helps keep watch and identify cars, pedestrians, traffic signals and signs, and even lane markers up ahead. Cameras on the sides of the car keep track of lane markers and keep the car centered in its lane. Indeed, it negotiates curves just as if Muharemovic were handling the steering wheel himself.
When a car on the left of us gets a little too close, the sensors activate a servo motor that gently but quickly steers us out of the center of the lane and a bit to the right to make sure we don't get sideswiped. When the traffic in front slows, so does our car. It speeds up when the cars ahead speed up.
At one point, a camera car working with us signals for Muharemovic to pull up alongside on the right. Our car refuses, slowing down each time it gets too close to the camera car's right rear bumper. "Oops," Muharemovic says with a laugh. It turns out that he forgot to disable a system that's required in Germany to prevent the car from passing on the right.
When Muharemovic wants to change lanes, he flips on the turn signal to disengage the automatic controls, crosses the lane and removes his hands from the wheel once again as the car automatically centers itself and forges ahead.
Traffic Jams Made Easy
Pulling off the highway, Muharemovic finds a crowded commercial street and shows off Continental's traffic-jam assist system. The same array of sensors, guided by different software, now lets the car follow the vehicle in front of it. At low speeds our car goes wherever the lead car goes, crossing lanes, slowing, speeding up, stopping and starting as the tightly packed traffic conditions demand.
An early version of the system still requiring the driver's hands on the wheel will show up later this year on the European 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class , but it's not headed to the U.S. — yet.
All too soon, the test ride is over and I realize that except for a few moments after Muharemovic first removed his hands from the steering wheel, I've been perfectly at ease riding along at freeway speed on an actual freeway, not a protected test track, in a car that's driving itself.
Red Plate Special
Muharemovic, of course, is an old hand at this. He's spent thousands of miles on Nevada roads in this car, which has a special, bright-red "autonomous vehicle" license plate. It's the first one Nevada issued to an automotive supply company.
No state or federal laws specifically prohibit self-driving vehicles, and Muharemovic has "driven" Continental's prototype from Nevada to Michigan. But Nevada was the first state to explicitly approve self-driven car testing on public roads. It requires (among other things) a real human being to sit in the driver seat and be ready to take back control at a moment's notice. California and Florida have since approved similar testing regulations, and other states are lining up.
The Fast-Arriving Future
Continental says the first production-model self-driving cars likely will hit the roads around 2016. Their autonomous functions will be limited to low-speed situations like traffic jams and crowded stop-and-go city streets. By 2020, "automatic" cars, as Continental calls them, could be ready for highways. In both cases, a licensed driver would have to be in the driver seat monitoring things at all times.
But fully autonomous driving, with no monitoring required, could come as early as 2025 if the legal and insurance systems are ready for it by then, Continental executives say.
Proponents of self-driving cars point out that none of the companies working on them expect that these cars will make human-driven vehicles obsolete — at least not in the first half of this century.
Share the Drive
Autonomous driving is intended to relieve humans of the most humdrum and monotonous of driving tasks, such as daily commuting and negotiating traffic jams. This would, in theory, free them to use their time in the car more productively. Not coincidentally, self-driving cars also would eliminate the behind-the-wheel boredom and inattention that is at the root of most traffic accidents.
So while the car of the not-so-distant future might let you surf the Web or write e-mails while carting you down the freeway, don't fret. You'll still be able to turn off the technology and take back the wheel and accelerator when you want to whip along a curvy country road on a weekend outing.
All in all, not a bad system.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.