In-car Wi-Fi is available now from General Motors for a few hundred dollars, plus a monthly subscription fee, and widespread rollout is imminent.
That means surfing the Web on the way to work will probably be par for the course by 2020. And despite government concerns about distracted driving, it’s a good bet that apps for Pandora radio, Facebook and Twitter will soon be standard fare in your infotainment system.
The systems will rely on voice commands. GM has already started testing audio Facebook updates through its revamped OnStar communications link. Toyota’s Entune system, previewed at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, also responds to voice commands and can use the driver’s smart phone to bring apps such as OpenTable, MovieTickets.com and Bing to the dashboard.
8. Fuel-Sipper Tech
President Obama’s latest fuel-economy proposal calls for an industry-wide average of up to 62 miles per gallon by 2025, so look for automakers to embrace fuel savings wherever they can.
To get to the 62 mpg mark, experts estimate it will require widespread electrification, adding up to $10,000 to the cost of a new vehicle. Regenerative brakes, which recharge the battery when you step on the brake pedal, will be standard equipment for gas-engine as well as hybrid vehicles. A stop/start feature, similar to that on today’s hybrids, will become standard for gas-engine vehicles, improving fuel economy by up to 10%.
When your vehicle is stopped, such as at a light or in heavy traffic, the system turns off the engine and restarts it when you take your foot off the brake. Ford will begin offering this on some vehicles next year.
9. Advanced Engines
Hybrids will become a much bigger percentage of cars sold, as will “mild” hybrids, such as Buick’s LaCrosse with eAssist, which uses a small lithium ion battery to power a stop/start system and regenerative brakes. The remaining gas-engine models will rely on turbocharging and direct-injection.
Engine size will be a factor, as well. Ford’s newest EcoBoost engine is a turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder with direct injection that will offer up to 20% better fuel economy than a traditional four-cylinder with the same amount of power. (No pricing is available yet for the three-cylinder engine, but on the 2011 Ford Flex, the six-cylinder EcoBoost engine costs $3,000 more than the regular one.)
You’ll also see transmissions with more gears, which will help improve fuel economy by up to 6%. Eight speeds is the new six.
10. Exotic Materials
Making cars lighter is one way that automakers can meet higher mileage standards. So instead of high-strength steel and aluminum, carmakers are looking at carbon fiber, the strong, durable and ultralight material found in tennis rackets, bicycles and even airplanes.
Lightweight carbon fiber pieces will be featured on many upscale vehicles, like BMW’s forthcoming line of electric cars, which will hit the road in 2013. Although manufacturing the material is costly now, prices will come down as advances in manufacturing are made. Using carbon fiber to reduce weight could improve fuel economy by 7%.