Imagine if your car could release an airbag underneath your vehicle to stop an oncoming crash. Or if your windshield could display a scroll of information detailing how far away you are from that poor, unsuspecting baby deer. Consider the possibility of your car alerting other drivers that your brakes are malfunctioning. Not you, your vehicle. Can you picture it? Because Mercedes, BMW, and Ford have. This is the kind of future car technology that automakers are envisioning. Active safety system airbags, augmented reality, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication are all being tested, and in some cases deployed, right now.
In our last piece on modern car connectivity, we explored some of the ways in which car technology has evolved over the years. Undeniably, some of the more revolutionary changes have occurred as a result of digital innovation. But the Electronic Age has mass-produced more than just flashy tech and gadgets. It’s introduced an entirely new way of thinking about and interacting with the outside world. And when it comes to the cars we drive, Millennials seem to be determining the way the wind will blow. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, this group now represents the faction with the greatest buying power. And they’ve proven that future car technology will be filled with instant data connectivity and social interaction. If you don’t believe us, just look at what’s already on the road today.
Living in the Future
For many years, OEMs have been changing our expectations when it comes to purchasing a vehicle. From the implementation of safety features such as airbags, seat belts, and traction control, to conveniences like heated and cooled leather seats, keyless ignitions, and Bluetooth connectivity—we’re spoiled. Drivers are greeted with ever-evolving sophisticated infotainment systems, dash controls, stereo systems, and even virtual assistants. Today’s vehicles can set our speed, charge our iPad, and have Siri read our text messages—all while alerting us to the teenage driver playing chicken in our blindspot. Cruise control is officially “old” tech! What’s more, many of these cars now offer their own WiFi hotspot, so you “literally” don’t ever have to face the horror of being without Facebook. Impressive or pathetic, there’s no turning back.
There’s a seemingly endless array of bells and whistles. And for many of us, they can feel more advanced and distracting than they’re arguably worth. But in all honesty? They’re fascinating. And they’re successfully dictating future car technology.
OEM’s Create a Need…
The constant stream of modern technological advancements has undoubtedly enhanced consumer experiences behind the wheel. And it has also helped produce a tech-savvy generation that is always in search of the next upgrade. Consumers want a continual supply of what’s bigger, faster, and ultimately better—allowing them to both determine and demand what’s trending. The OEMs have done a commendable job of tapping into that mindset. In many ways, they’ve created a perceived need where there wasn’t one. They’ve “improved” the quality of life by gifting drivers with greater safety and control behind the wheel and forever changing expectations directly at the point of purchase.
Fifty years ago who would have ever thought compact hybrid and electric cars would be roaming the roads? Or that full-size trucks would offer luxury-grade features and a turbocharged engine? Heck, can you imagine telling your grandparents in the 1950s that someday exhausted parents will drive around in a bastardized station wagon with built-in television sets?
No, because they probably would have gasped, called you a dirty Communist, and had you committed.
Clearly OEMs have developed a reliable formula that allows them to sell not just a car, but a way of life. And in today’s market specifically, they’re marketing a car that allows us to interact with that life in an unprecedented way. But as in most things, it would be foolish to forget the little guys. The aftermarket has carved its own niche in this ever-growing world of add-ons, capitalizing on consumer demand in the best way they know how—customization and lifestyle appeal.
…And the Aftermarket Fills It
Aftermarket modifications are nothing new to the timeline of the automobile. For as long as there have been cars to drive, there have been backyard mechanics trying to make them faster, stronger, and louder. But as modern vehicles become more sophisticated and more computerized, with stricter warranties and less room for error, at-home tinkering becomes more difficult. While the need for a professional set of hands can make some aftermarket upgrades more costly, many others require merely a data connection and the ability to read an instruction packet. And if Millennials are the ones determining the future of car technology, one thing is for certain: said technology must be easy-to-use and cellphone-friendly.
Studies using Federal Highway Administration data have discovered that Millennials are less interested in driving than previous generations, showing a decline in both car ownership and driver’s licensing. And of the portion that is buying cars, many are opting for leasing. Furthermore, a 2016 Cox Automotive report found that 33% of Millennials prioritized infotainment features over safety features in a vehicle.
It’s clear that attracting this division of consumers means appealing to their enthusiasm for constant connection and social interaction. Those born into a world where Facebook and YouTube are nothing new are not just interested in sharing seemingly mundane aspects of their lives, they’re used to it. Catering to this fishbowl way of life are products like Cobra Dash Cams and WaspCams, which allow drivers to record, relive, and share their experiences. Similarly, JVC Mobile Multimedia Receivers provide built-in Bluetooth and full-time connection, as well as a Siri eyes-free mode, digital radio, and smartphone charging. And you can expect future car technology to continue in this vein.
Aftermarket Marketing Takes a Page from the OEM Playbook
Millennial consumers have proven to be surprisingly frugal with their money. So, for aftermarket manufacturers to attract their business, they sell items that don’t just make life fun or interesting, but perceptively easier. Products like Brandmotion Freedom Charge Wireless Charging remove tangling cords and the terror of a dead phone battery. Directed SmartPark and SmartStart allow drivers to use their phones to get directions back to their parked car and then start the engine remotely. Pilot Portable Speakers get the party started by offering tailgaters a wireless and water-resistant boombox with more than 30 feet of range and 10 hours of playtime. These are all popular upgrades that Millennial consumers deem a useful investment.
And the OEMs certainly are catching on. If people are willing to spend a few hundred dollars on a particular upgrade after purchase, why not include that upgrade in a fancy package at the point of sale and charge several more hundreds of dollars? With more drivers investing in products like Crimestopper dash cams to protect their vehicles and their driving records, is it really that hard to imagine OEM future car technology offering that as a standard cabin feature?
The automobile, specifically the car technology era, is responsible for spreading ideas, goods and services faster than ever before. It has aided humanity in a way that wasn’t possible before its existence. It has taken the old adage of “focusing on the journey rather than the destination” and literally turned it into a profit-making approach. And it consistently changes what that “journey” will look like, feel like, and even sound like. But technology is a little like Pandora’s box. The more we interact with it, the more complicated it becomes. If computers can allow humans to bridge even more gaps than could ever be possible by the automobile, what does a future of continually merging these two revolutionary technologies look like?
As the all-knowing Yoda said in Episode V, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” What seems to be certain is uncertainty itself. President Trump has expressed his opinions on climate change and alternative energy methods. Opinions that have shown preference toward looser emissions controls and possible deregulation of the automotive industry. It’s true, the cars on the road today are smarter than the computer that initially put man on the moon. But the future car technology that will transition us from modern smart cars to true self-driving vehicles might not get the fast-tracking or funding it needs under this presidency. So, it looks like we’ll just have to be patient Padawans and hold tight for what’s next on the horizon of car evolution.