The coming changes to the machines, software, and ownership systems that shape how we hit the road
The car was a major improvement over the horse, but since then, what? This argument -- that car innovation has more or less stagnated -- has been advanced by a few economists, most notably Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, who say that our economic downturn has been, at least in part, the result of recently slow technological progress, nothing on the order of what happened a century ago.
But at the ongoing Consumer Electronics Show, the ongoing Detroit Auto Show, and in a special report from Technology Review, signs point to a coming era of changes -- big and small -- that will remake how we drive cars, and, also, who will own them. Here's a breakdown of what's on the horizon.
Changes in the Machines
Many of the improvements to the mechanical systems of cars are focused on making them more efficient, and on making those more efficient vehicles easier for people to own and use. Ford, for example, demonstrated a home solar power kit at CES. As The Economist reported:
The 150 square-foot (14 square-metre) array, to be installed on owners' houses, should feed as much power to the grid as the average driver ever needs fully to recharge his car's battery. Panels on roofs in rainy Seattle might allow 12,000 miles (19,300km) of driving each year; denizens of sunny Tucson may squeeze out 15,000 miles or more.
The solar kit will set a Ford owner back around $10,000 (the price would be higher were it not for American federal incentives). It comes with a 25-year guarantee--22 years more than the warranty on the car.
Additionally, Ford introduced a super-efficient plug-in hybrid, the Fusion Energi, which is said to be more efficient than the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, though details for making a full comparison are still not available.