The New Automotive Paradigm

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The New Automotive Paradigm

What will your car be like in 20 years? Announcements in early 2008 at two major trade shows — the Detroit Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — provide the first glimpse of the future of the American car.

In Las Vegas, General Motors unveiled plans for a driverless vehicle that would accelerate, brake, safely transport passengers to their destinations, and park itself when it arrived.

As the Associated Press1 reports, the technology already exists to make a driverless car. This includes radar-based cruise control, motion sensors, lane-change warning devices, electronic stability control, and satellite-based digital mapping.

For example, the Wall Street Journal2 points out that millions of cars now use GM’s OnStar communications system, which could be adapted to prevent two cars with the system from colliding. Also, some luxury cars are equipped with “adaptive cruise control” that automatically increases or decreases the car’s speed to keep a certain distance from the car in front of it. And trucks made by DaimlerAG feature “active brake assist” technology that monitors road conditions in front of the vehicle for hazards and activates the brake if the driver fails to do so.
The benefits of completely driverless technology would include convenience, improved safety, and less traffic congestion. Crashes would be avoided by sensors that would detect the locations of other cars and objects and systems that would automatically reduce speeds, swerve, or stop the car completely to avoid an accident.

This will prevent most of the 42,000 traffic deaths that currently occur each year in the U.S. Also, by aligning the car’s speed with surrounding cars and maintaining a short distance between vehicles, driverless technology can allow more cars to travel on a highway at the same time while avoiding traffic jams.

At both the Las Vegas and Detroit shows, GM also presented new alternative-fuel powered cars. At a time when consumers are increasingly worried about rising gas prices and global warming, car companies are racing to develop models that run on cleaner, cheaper sources of energy.

They are also facing pressure from the federal government. The new energy bill signed by President Bush in January 2008 requires that new vehicles get 35 miles to the gallon by 2020, up from 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 22.2 miles per gallon for light trucks.

GM is investing almost $1 billion to build the Chevrolet Volt, which will be battery-powered. It’s expected to reach the market around 2012...

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