The future shown at Detroit 2014


The 2014 North American International Auto Show has just been held at Detroit and this gives us a chance to identify the trends for the next year or so with both actual models and concept cars on display. The important feature of this auto show is that it brings manufacturers from all the major markets. So in addition to the home-grown product, we get to see the pick of the new models from both the Europeans and the Asians. This year we seem to be turning the clock back. Looking around the shows in other parts of the world over the last five years, there’s been a strong emphasis on green vehicles. This means we’ve seen a large number of hybrids, electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cells with real efforts being made to make the vehicles small and lighter to conserve Earth’s scarce natural resources.

But when it comes to the North American show this year, the emphasis is back on speed. Yes, the power output performance is more important in our market than saving the Earth. So this year brings a substantial crop of sports cars. As always, women wearing as little clothing as possible lurch around these cars in high heels and prove the marketers still think sex sells sports cars to male buyers. Let’s be honest here. Men don’t talk about buying a red hot sports car because they will get great gas mileage. They have quite different motives in mind.

This is not to say there are no green features in these new models and concept cars. For example, if you’re interested in the new Mustang, you can lay down dollars for the 5 liter V8 engine or accept slightly less speed but enjoy the fuel economy of the the 2.3 liter four cylinder EcoBoost engine.

Indeed, for most practical purposes, the top sports cars with the fuel efficient engines and turbochargers fitted give enough bragging rights for most barroom comparisons. Only the real die-hard enthusiasts will want the extra torque of the top-of-the range engines. Given that all these flying machines are designed with the best possible brakes and suspensions, they are also relatively safe to drive both in straight lines and around corners. The only problems come in the tradeoff between strength and lighter building materials. The theory says using carbon fibers to reinforce plastic plus aluminum is as strong as the heavy steel they replace.

So here’s the question. Should manufacturers be designing for the drivers looking for a fun experience, or should government and the manufacturers decide to gently wean drivers off speed and direct them to safer vehicles? When the recession hit, the mood of the country fell and fun went out of fashion. Perhaps we should keep it that way for road safety even though people are more optimistic today. The combination of safety and efficiency should be enough to make the prospect of owning a vehicle sexy.

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