The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit this year was one of the largest ever. The show floor was filled with new steel, giving a powerful showcase to the automotive industry, which is back on the growth trend. With sales being up, optimism and excitement were the mood as carmakers showcased their latest and greatest products. Among those were concepts and futuristic (and not-so-distant) technologies, as well as curves and lines hinting at what is coming in the industry.
Looking at the show floor on the whole, clear trends emerged in both upcoming technologies and vehicle styling. Here are five trends that are clearly coming to the forefront.
#1 – Autonomous, Self-driving Tech
Cars that drive themselves have been a dream of science fiction fans for decades. Now, technology is getting closer than ever before and we’re within easy reach of having self-driving cars in our garages. Currently, vehicles like the Chrysler 200 have options that provide high levels of driver assistance, such as adaptive cruise control and active lane keeping. Companies like Nissan, Audi, and others are actively working toward cars that require no driver input at all, in any situation. Technology giants like NASA and Google are in on this too, working closely with automakers to make autonomous cars a reality.
On the Detroit show floor, dreamy vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Concept combine self-driving technology with non-polluting propulsion ideas to envision a vehicle of the not-too-distant future. It won’t be long before the dreary commute to the office becomes a time to comb your hair, apply makeup, and drink your coffee safely, as opposed to the way it’s done today.
#2 – Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Infrastructure
Fuel-cell vehicles are prominent on this year’s NAIAS floor. Nearly every major automaker has a hand in hydrogen fuel cell development and many, such as Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, are championing them without reservation. In Detroit, the Honda FCV Concept was unveiled to the press for the first time this year while the Toyota Mirai, which was recently unveiled in Los Angeles, was on display nearby. Hyundai has had the Tucson Fuel Cell on the road for months, and showcased the inner workings of this future-is-now machine.
Everywhere, automakers involved in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles were talking about infrastructure to refuel and maintain these clean-tailpipe, fast-fueling machines. Although fuel-cell technology for automotive has a way to go before it can become mainstream, it’s moving fast and could be here sooner than we might think.
#3 – Bold, Sinewy and Powerful Styling
Walking among the booths at the Detroit auto show in 2015 brings another trend to attention: styling. Sedans, coupes, crossovers, and even pickup trucks are becoming bolder, sleeker, and more powerful looking. The Infiniti Q60 Concept and the Buick Avenir concept are two examples of a coupe and sedan with strong, muscular design combined with a refined, sporty look. While the world will always love muscle cars and supercars, it’s the two- and four-door cars that sell the most and they’re becoming more and more powerful in appearance. Gone are the days of dead, lackluster design. We hope.
#4 – Clean Diesel
Although hydrogen took the stage in a big way this year, many domestic and European automakers began talking diesel. The trend in pickup trucks has been happening for a few years now, but in passenger cars, it’s been a longer time coming. Now “clean diesel” is a term being heard with regularity as automakers try to find ways to improve performance and raise fuel economy.
Diesel technology has come a long way since the oil burners of the 1970s spewed particulates into the smog-filled air of America’s cities. Today, diesel vehicles can be cleaner than gasoline ones when it comes to emissions, and they often offer exceptional fuel economy, which is appealing to a growing contingent of buyers. On the show floor in Detroit, concepts like the Hyundai Santa Cruz and production vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and General Motors all proudly touted diesel as their fuel of choice.
#5 – Plug-ins and Electrification
With growing trends toward fuel economy, automakers are increasingly looking at electrification as well. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles were in abundance at NAIAS this year, with General Motors leading the charge through their unveiling of the Chevrolet Bolt concept, which is headed for production very soon. A redesigned 2016 Chevy Volt was also shown, but GM wasn’t alone in this EV game.
Downstairs, a newcomer to manufacture, Local Motors, is shaking things up not only with an electric buggy, but one that’s made entirely on a 3D printer, making it one of the most forward-thinking vehicles on the floor that actually operates as advertised. Upstairs, rumors abounded that Jeep may consider a hybrid powertrain in the next-generation Wrangler and elsewhere. Whispers were often overheard as various nameplates hinted at possible future offerings that might include batteries and motors, often while standing next to a car like the BMW i8.
Drawing It Together
The whole bag of tricks that the global automotive industry is pulling together is a large one, and many automakers are beginning to bring together a number of choices in tech and styling trends to create faster, more fuel-efficient and safer cars than ever before. From self-driving electric car concepts to powerful sports sedans that sip fuel daintily despite their muscular appearance, the showroom bustles with next-generation ideas that combine the ideals of the car buying public.
Today’s options for car and truck buying are plentiful and consumers have far more choices than ever before. With all of the innovations we’ve seen at NAIAS this year, the next few years will be exciting, that’s for sure.