Auto Trends Driving the Future
How the Sandhills is embracing the changing car market
By RAY LINVILLE
Even without the influence of the coronavirus pandemic, the automobile market has been changing with shifts in consumer demand patterns as well as innovations and new options the manufacturers are introducing. In the Sandhills, even though we reflect the national changes, local experts expect three auto trends — expansion of electric vehicles, better safety features, and increased vehicle integration with online updates — to be significantly important in the near term.
EXPANSION OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES
Electric vehicles are becoming more and more commonplace in the Sandhills. Sometimes only a Telsa initially stood out, but now so are other models. More than 40 different models using some form of electric power are available, and others are being rolled out this fall.
In late 2020, a new battery-electric crossover four-door SUV will have the Mustang name on it, and it will scoot from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 3.5 seconds. “It’s getting a lot of publicity now,” says Mike Thomas, who has sold cars for 36 years in the Sandhills and is now a leading salesman at Cooper Ford in Carthage. “People are reading about it, which has generated internet leads and phone calls for us.”
Other electric models are also promoting their quick acceleration as well as faster charging times and increased range. Industry analysts expect that electric and hybrid electric vehicles will account for about 30 percent of the cars on sale by the year 2025.
As the popularity of electric vehicles has been growing, the number of charging stations in the Sandhills has been quietly expanding. Of course, some dealers have charging stations, and overnight accommodations such as Residence Inn in Southern Pines and the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst have added them too, but they are also now being placed near shopping and other destinations, such as at the Southern Pines Public Library and National Athletic Village.
The first charging stations in Pinehurst were installed in late 2012. Duke Energy Progress provided the two stations and paid for their installation in a cooperative arrangement with the village. In the parking lot at the Village Green, they are free for electric automobiles to use on a first-come, first-serve basis. Expect more charging stations to be added in our area. More than half of the 16,000 charging stations in the U.S. have been built since 2015. Many are searchable online and through mobile apps and GPS devices.
BETTER SAFETY FEATURES
Driver assistance technology is a new buzzword that’s gaining a lot of attention, particularly since the manufacturers are adding safeguards to make sure that drivers don’t abuse it.
General Motors has already introduced the Super Cruise technology, which is a hands-off autopilot system that can steer, brake and accelerate on its own when specific conditions are met. It is the culmination of driver aid features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping steering assistance that were developed recently. Super Cruise works on only approved highways that have been laser-scanned with millimeter accuracy. For the new model year, GM is introducing it in seven cars in addition to Cadillac that recently added it. It is also adding 70,000 more miles of roads that do not feature a defined divide in the roadway.
The technology is “useful on interstates and for long-distance driving,” says Ian Longfellow, sales manager at Clark Cadillac Chevrolet in Pinehurst, but “it’s not easy for us to demonstrate because the main highways are not close by.” The nearest road where the technology is applicable is Interstate 73/74, and other interstates in the state where it can be used include 40, 85, and 95.
Similarly, Ford has developed Active Drive Assist that enables hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highway under certain conditions. It is also an evolution of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering technologies and will be offered on several vehicles, including the new electric Mustang.
The lane assist feature, which has been available for a few years, is opening more willingness by customers to consider other driver assistance technology, says Thomas of Cooper Ford.
INCREASED VEHICLE INTEGRATION WITH ONLINE UPDATES
The Internet of Things (objects that “talk” to each other) will continue to transform the automotive sector. Not only are connected cars providing more entertainment options and safer rides, they are fueling a multi-billion-dollar data industry. Internet– and cloud–connected cars
already transmit lots of data — up to 200 megabytes daily.
Thanks to this connectivity, many software-reliant components, such as electronic control units, are routinely updated. Over-the-air software fixes for literally every system — from battery performance to suspension lifts — can improve vehicle performance, too.
Many car shoppers are already aware that this new technology is available. “Customers do a lot of research online before coming to a dealership,” says Longfellow of Clark Cadillac Chevrolet. “Car updates are like getting an update on your phone. You get a message, can schedule the upload when it’s convenient, and then have the latest and greatest when it’s needed.”
Another benefit is predictive maintenance. Computer chips and sensors throughout a connected car can collect performance data. After the data is processed in the cloud, a prediction on when a part might require maintenance can be sent well before it fails.
Thomas at Cooper Ford adds: “The FordPass app lets an owner use a phone to check a vehicle’s status, and it gives updates on when the next service is needed and has other remote features, too.”
Some automakers such as Audi offer an a la carte menu of options that permit you to buy features on demand. Customers can continually customize a vehicle to their individual requirements in the areas of driver assistance systems and “infotainment.” Functions can be obtained for varying periods — monthly, annually or permanently.
What else is on the horizon? Apple has created a digital key using an iPhone or its watch that opens and starts vehicles. The first automaker partner is BMW, but Nissan and other industry groups will bring this feature to more cars soon. Stay tuned for these changes.