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Top 5 Automotive Trends of 2011

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Jennifer Campbell
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Gold
Is it worth it? Is it safe?
Jennifer Campbell   12/6/2011 9:58:36 AM
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Although intrigued by all the technology going into automobiles these days, I can't help but wonder how much all of these automobiles actually cost to build and how much they sell for. Are they/will they be in mass production when only, I anticipate, a small portion of the population will be able to buy them?

Also, on the infotainment side: is this feasible when more and more states are cracking down on unsafe drivers ie: the ban on texting while driving in Massachusetts? I wouldn't be surprised if more and more legislation was handed down based on the features being added to autos.

Chuck, do you think I am way off base here?

 

Charles Murray
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Re: Is it worth it? Is it safe?
Charles Murray   12/6/2011 11:03:43 AM
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Jenn: No, you're not off base. Let's look at the distraction issue first. More legislation will undoubtedly have to be handed down. The problem is, as much as the public complains about driver distraction, many people want to bring their iPods and phones into their vehicles. Automakers know this, and they reasonably conclude that they need to market these features in order to compete. Standards will help simplify the technology and reduce the distraction, but they won't eliminate it. To eliminate it, we all have to be ready to surrender our phones and iPods. 

Regarding cost: Yes, the proliferation of electronics is affecting cost. But most of the infotainment features start out at the high end, in the luxury cars, where the extra cost can be more easily absorbed. They usually don't trickle down to the mid-level and low-end vehicles until the economies of scale allow for it to result in a modest cost difference. Even then, many of these features will reach low-end vehicles as an option, when they do arrive. Mandated safety features (airbags, electronic stability control, etc) are another matter -- they are more likely to add cost to low-end vehicles, because the buyer can't opt out.

Alexander Wolfe
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Old school versus new
Alexander Wolfe   12/6/2011 2:45:57 PM
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One trend I can't get my brain around -- if indeed it's a real trend -- is what seems to be the bifurcation between the traditional automakers and the thousand blooming flowers of tiny car startups. (For the latter, this is both in terms of company size as well as the size of the cars they make.) So on the one hand, we have GM getting deeper into both telematics and customer-driven design, as Chuck has expertly written about. Yet we also have a grass-roots sector springing up in the EV space, as if it were 1910 all over again. So will these two arenas remain separate, cross-pollinate; will one take over the other or will the little guys one day disappear as quietly as they arrived?

Charles Murray
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Re: Old school versus new
Charles Murray   12/6/2011 9:57:34 PM
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The answer to your question, Alex, is that these companies will cross-pollinate. Some old line auto companies were initially dismissive of Tesla, for example, but when the Roadster did 244 miles on a charge, even Bob Lutz of GM acknowledged that all automakers could learn from them. Now, Tesla is teaming with Toyota on an electric vehicle.  

Watashi
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Platinum
How much change should we really expect
Watashi   12/7/2011 12:23:14 PM
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CAFE has been forced so high that any automaker who wants to compete in the US will have to offer an EV just to bring the fleet average up.  Car manufacturers will have to invest in creating EVs and hybrids that appeal to an unfriendly market (mainly because of the performance vs. cost issue).  But, will any technology be developed that can also benefit their core vehicle lines?

I would love for my vehicles to get 50mpg and give me the same performance, convenience, and function that I currently enjoy, at the same price point.  Unfortunately, the technology being developed to comply with the mandate appears to have limited use in the conventional market.  Worse yet, with the push to electrify taking up the R&D funds, is there enough being done to improve current ICE designs?

Automaker "agreement" to the new CAFE standards is an interesting spin.  It would be more accurate to say that Congress agreed for them.


 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Old school versus new
Ann R. Thryft   12/7/2011 1:08:18 PM
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I'd guess that the answer to Alex' question will idepend on how well big auto makers do in the EV space and whether they then decide to throw dollars at the little startups, i.e., buy them out and take them over to acquire their technology, or alternatively, R&D it themselves.

 


Charles Murray
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Re: How much change should we really expect
Charles Murray   12/7/2011 3:43:45 PM
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To Watashi: It would be nice if those R&D dollars could be invested in long-term battery technologies that could actually make EVs competitive. Right now, the energy density is too low and the cost is still too high. The problem is, we're in a big hurry when it comes to EVs. The unfortunate part of this is that in seven years, many of the lithium-ion start-ups -- some based on government money -- will be going out of business when the lithium-ion battery glut hits.

TJ McDermott
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Blogger
Electification and the recurring cost
TJ McDermott   12/7/2011 3:49:28 PM
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I've not yet seen a decent analysis of the cost of the electricity when charging your vehicle at home.  There's lots and lots of handwaving around the MPG of the things, but much less about the actual day-to-day operating cost.  10 hour charging is necessary when using a 120vac house outlet.  What does that translate to?  Quick research says the answer is complicated, depending on when you decide to charge.  Still, how about an average number from the manufacturers?

The electrical grid isn't smart now, taking too long to get smart, and yet more and more cars are expected to plug in.  Does the electrical grid have enough capacity to deal with this increasing load?

Car companies rolled out their electric cars, and said "not my problem" to the source of that electricity.  The companies that attack both problems at once will become wildly successful.

Alexander Wolfe
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Blogger
Re: Electification and the recurring cost
Alexander Wolfe   12/8/2011 10:47:07 AM
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In 2012, I'm guessing we're going to have to add "battery cooling systems and technologies" to our list, in light of the recent to-do over the Chevy Volt Lithium-ion battery fires following crashes. And TJ makes a good point, so there's also work to be done on the economics of charging, or, more correctly, the infrastructure of charging. Those government-funded tests to set up charging stations in several cities throughout the U.S. need a boost if consumer demand for electrics is ever going to take off. New York, where I live, is waayyy behind the curve here. What are you supposed to do, throw an extension cord out your window? (That would be a very Seinfeldian solution...)

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: Electification and the recurring cost
Ann R. Thryft   12/8/2011 3:49:39 PM
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Wow, I should remember to be grateful for where I live. EV charging stations have been a fact of life here in Silicon Valley (actually I'm outside the fringe) for some time now, although there still aren't enough of them. According to this map

http://www.altfuelprices.com/stations/ELEC/California/San-Jose/

there are 10 in the greater San Jose area and 10 within 50 miles of San Jose.

Here's a charger site map where you can look up locations by zip code or address:

http://www.evchargermaps.com/


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