Despite many technological advances in automobiles in recent years, The Driving Life‘s Matt Hubbard believes there is still room for a lot of growth.
Compared to the constantly improving and evolving technology industry, the automotive industry has singularly failed to evolve the automobile beyond nibbling away at efficiency, power, weight and a bit of tech. While we have $500 smartphones that contain more computing power than NASA used to launch the first man to the moon, automobiles have barely evolved beyond four rubber tires, some seats and an engine that burns fossil fuels.
You may think that a Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the height of sophistication, technological advancement and the auto industry’s finest achievement, but it still weighs more than two tons, is built from steel and burns a gallon of fuel every 40 miles or so.
Here are some areas where manufacturers have failed to evolve at a sufficient enough pace:
We still drive around in cars that rely on rubber filled with compressed air to give us the grip we need and make the ride comfortable and need changing every 10,000 miles. In 2013, this is a ridiculous concept. Run flats aren’t the solution. A totally new and innovative approach is required. How about tires filled with some kind of less dense compound that doesn’t leak out when the outer layer is punctured? Complacency has failed to drive tire technology forward. Giant strides are required.
Gasoline and diesel engines and gearboxes are so antiquated as to be embarrassing. Yes, they give us thrills, but burning fossil fuel is automotive tail chasing. The answer lies in a combination of hydrogen and electric engines, which at least some manufacturers are latently thinking about. That leads us to the next item.
Battery technology has barely evolved. Four hours charging for 250 miles driving – that’s ridiculous. A massive global competition is required to improve and overhaul electricity storage capacity and charge times.
Weight and Materials
We still make cars from steel. Steel might possess high strength properties but it is heavy and it rusts. We need space-age materials. Carbon compounds, resins, anything but heavy old steel. Take a look at the BMW Gina Concept (pictured above), which used flexible material instead of steel to for the car’s body. More thinking like this is required.
Most people take their smartphone into their car. Contained on that smartphone is sophisticated satellite navigation, the driver’s own music choices, email and and social media. With touchscreens appearing in even the most basic models, why don’t we have full smartphone integration via bluetooth? Some apps are appearing in some cars but it’s all very clunky and not exactly smooth or easy to use. It also doesn’t make full use of the phone’s features.
Remote Software Updates
Modern cars contain many electronic systems, most of which are pretty useless, but some are essential to the ongoing running of the car. Once they leave the factory, they are never touched again. Compare iPhone software from a few years ago to that of today. If, say, Fiat’s engineers discover how to improve horsepower, fuel economy or emissions five years after the release of a particular car, why is there no facility for the owner to download a software update to freshen their engine and other components?
Cylinder Shut Down
This feature is only available in some high-end cars. We don’t use or need the full power from the engine when coasting or braking, so why not shut down most of the cylinders? V-8 engines are great, but a V-2 is fine when trickling along at 40 mph behind a Honda Fit/Jazz. This is so easy and cheap to implement, it’s madness that it hasn’t been adopted as a mainstream technology already.