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Future fantastic

What does the future hold for the motor industry? CHARLEEN CLARKE takes a spin in her automotive crystal ball and reveals all …

The motor industry has come a long, long way – but, in the words of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. In fact, we are probably embarking on the most innovative decade that the automotive business has ever seen. Great things are expected, as Dr Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology at Jaguar Land Rover, predicts: “The car of the future will become more capable, cleaner, more connected, more desirable and more intelligent.” Here are the top trends to look out for:

Green to the fore

Green has been the buzzword in the automotive game for many years, but expect the future to be even greener than Kermit. The big news in the near future is the introduction of electric vehicles. Nissan was first to launch an electric car – the LEAF – in South Africa. BMW and Volkswagen are about to follow suit, with the i3, i8 and electric Golf. DEKAT has already driven the i3 and the electric Golf, and they’re marvellous little city cars – absolutely ideal for manoeuvring in tight areas. Performance of both cars is peppy too. The arrival of these electrically powered vehicles next year will have massive implications on mobility in South Africa; expect a flurry of electric charging stations.

More connectivity

We used to have cars and mobile phones and computers. In future, it will be hard to tell them apart. And we’re not talking 10 years from now. In the case of connectivity, the future is already here. Take the Lexus NX 300h, for instance. Drivers can recharge their smartphones and other compatible items (conforming to the international Qi protocol) by placing them in a dedicated charging tray located handily between the front seats. There is no need for a cable connection.

Improved connectivity won’t just be cool; it will have lots of safety benefits too. For instance, thanks to improved connectivity, we could have better information about road conditions in the future. Volvo Cars, the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens Vegvesen) have already begun work in this area and they have joined forces on a pilot project in which road friction information from individual cars is shared within a cloud-based system.

When the Volvo test car detects an icy or slippery road patch, the information is transmitted to Volvo Cars’ database via the mobile phone network. An instant warning is transmitted to other vehicles that are approaching the slippery area, making it possible for the drivers to take immediate action to avoid a critical situation.

A slippery road warning on the instrument cluster alerts the driver. The application in the vehicle will be designed to adapt the driver warning to match the severity level based on the vehicle speed and the present road conditions.

Safety first

Safety will also be bolstered by the introduction of new safety technology and the wider implementation of existing technology. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is just one of the systems that is expected to become more common in future – and the United Kingdom’s Thatcham motor insurance research centre is predicting that thousands of accidents will be prevented in the UK as a result. AEB uses a combination of laser and radar to detect an imminent collision with an obstacle in front of the car and then automatically applies the brakes. If the driver fails to respond, the system will bring the car to a complete halt.

This sort of technology has already become fairly popular in luxury cars (although it’s sometimes an expensive option). In future, even less costly cars will have AEB.

Also on the subject of safety, Nissan has invented the smartest rearview mirror ever – and it’s being launched next year. Aptly called the Smart rearview mirror, it is housed within the structure of the rearview mirror, and it comprises a built-in LCD monitor that can be activated in place of the conventional mirror. A high-resolution camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle provides the driver with a clear unobstructed view of the rear flanks, allowing the ability to check blind spots and other traffic conditions. The camera projects a clear image onto the monitor to provide the driver with a better view for a more comfortable driving experience.

An additional feature of the Smart rearview mirror is the versatile switch function. Operated by a control located at the bottom of the mirror, the driver can utilise the traditional rearview mirror system, or with a simple flip of a switch, gain an unobstructed rearward view behind the vehicle embedded on the LCD display.

Of course, the ultimate aid in boosting safety will be the driverless car (99 per cent of accidents are caused by driver error). “The new driver assistance technologies we will roll out in the coming years have the potential to reduce accidents to zero, but we will ensure the excitement and enjoyment of driving will not be taken away as cars become more autonomous,” says Jaguar Land Rover’s Dr Epple. A Jaguar Land Rover Intelligent vehicle will become a reality within the next 10 years.

Numerous other companies are testing autonomous or ‘intelligent’ cars – with massive success. Mercedes-Benz has even succeeded in inventing a driverless truck, which could be on European roads within a decade.

Focus on design

The concept of fully automated cars has some fascinating future implications from a design point of view – take for instance a stained-glass car, produced by British artist Dominic Wilcox for the Dezeen and MINI Frontiers exhibition (which took place during London Design Festival in September this year).

“In the future it will be safer to drive in a driverless car than it will in a manual car,” says Wilcox. “Therefore we don’t need the protection systems that are built into contemporary cars. We can just have a shell of any design.”

Enter his stained-glass car, which was inspired by the stained-glass windows of Durham Cathedral. “It’s a sort of sleeper car, so you can actually just lie down, read a book or go to sleep and the car will take you to your destination,” he explains.

Improved economy

From dreams to harsh reality … Does a visit to the fuel station sound as appealing as root canal treatment? Then you’re going to love this trend: cars of the future will be more economical than ever before. Think less than a litre of fuel per 100 kilometres!

This is thanks to a raft of cutting-edge technologies – such as flywheels, engines, coasting technology, electric turbochargers and enclosed wheel wells. According to Autocar, these innovations will see fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in family cars plummet – to 0,7l/100km and under 90g/km respectively by 2020 (the average European family car achieved just 132g/km of CO2 in 2012 and is expected to manage 130g/km by next year).

It’s thought that flywheels could become far more familiar on mainstream cars in the next decade because they can store waste energy and then release it, much like an electric motor and battery. Flywheel systems are also about a quarter of the cost of a hybrid set-up, far less complex and much lighter.

When it comes to engine technology, it has been announced that manufacturers are developing engines with variable compression ratios, which will lead to significant advances in efficiency.

Coasting technology is something that is certain to be used on future models. Coasting at speed is already a feature on some production cars fitted with dual-clutch automatic gearboxes. The next version is expected to function when a car is travelling at low speeds.

Manufacturers have already begun to preview their own versions of electric turbocharging. One such model from Audi uses a powerful fan in the engine’s induction system. This fan blows air through the turbo when the engine is decelerating in order to spin the turbo fan up to speed so that full boost is available as soon as the driver gets back on the accelerator. Such a system is especially useful for smaller-capacity downsized engines, which generate little exhaust gas energy, especially at low speed.

Finally Autocar maintains that wheel wells might yield big reductions in drag. Some manufacturers are already directing air across the face of the front wheels to achieve this. The next natural step is to enclose the wheel housing so airflow doesn’t get trapped as it travels under the car. This would mean fitting an undertray that extends beneath the front wishbones. This flexible ‘skirt’, which could be attached to the wheel arch liners and the lower wishbones, creates a seal that moves with the suspension.

Driving for dummies

In conclusion, cars of the future will also be even easier to drive – and to park. Bothered by the idea of parking in a tight space? Ford’s engineers are currently developing what they call the Fully Assisted Parking Aid. Your car parks itself (and can then extract itself) from tight parking spaces at the push of a button.

One this is certain: the future is going to be a great place to be!