What's coming down the pipeline? Industry experts on what will be the norm in 10 years.

Author:Baum, Jennifer
Position:FEATURE
 
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It's never easy, trying to predict the future. Even more so when you're talking about the auto industry. So what will our cars look like in ten years? They may not look too terribly different, or so says Sean McAlinden, executive vice president of research and chief economist, Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

"The average car on the road in 2009 was 10.6 years old," McAlinden said. "In 1999 it was 9.1 years old, and in 1995 it was 8.5 years old. So if we keep that average going, [most of the cars we see] in ten years will be the ones that are coming out today."

McAlinden bases this off of the fact that in ten years, new cars will only be five-six percent of what is sold in a year. That figure is the same today. In terms of prices, consumers can expect the average price to rise to $35,000-$36,000 from today's average of $29,900.

Safety first

We can probably expect to see some new developments in communication and entertainment, McAlinden noted, but "then we'll have to hear from the government on whether we can keep it in there."

One example of government intervention on automotive features is the recent proposal requiring automakers to install back-up cameras in all new vehicles starting in late 2014. The feature helps eliminate blind spots and reduce back-over accidents.

In addition to the rearview cameras, Washington has many more ideas on safety features they'd like to see in the car, including brake override systems, forward crash warning, side-to-side blind spot detection, active lane departure warning systems, curve speed warning, and more airbags than ever - and not just regular airbags, but smart airbags that are able to adapt to passengers. The government is also interested in interconnectivity devices that alert authorities when there's been an accident.

McAlinden speculated that our future cars will not be made mostly of steel, as they are today, but many materials, including magnesium, aluminum, plastic composites and other plastics, mainly to reduce the weight.

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"Although it is light weight, high-strength steel is much more expensive and slightly harder to work with," McAlinden said. "We might see auto manufacturers using large plastic pieces in the powertrain, replacing aluminum to get the vehicle's weight down."

For every 10 percent in weight reduction, fuel consumption is reduced by seven percent.

"However," McAlinden cautioned, "the more you try to reduce the weight of a car, the more expensive it...

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