As we launch into a new year Wheels looks ahead at the trends shaking up the automotive world in 2015.
2015 will be the year our cars really start talking to our smartphones with the imminent introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Each aims to mirror much of the functionality of your phone – including apps, mapping and entertainment – on to the main screen of the car.
All major car makers are working with Apple and Google to implement the technology, which is claimed to make it safer to stay connected while staying mobile. It’s also another nail in the onboard sat-nav coffin, with phones set to do the directing through the car’s screen. The negative is each connectivity system currently requires the phone to be plugged in, not just connected wirelessly as is the case with Bluetooth.
Standard reversing cameras
There’s little doubt the car world is heading to an existence where reversing cameras are standard. The standard fitment to cheapie models such as the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz is proof of that, and they’re already used on most SUVs. Once some mainstream brands make a big consumer item such as that standard it’s usually not long till competitors follow suit. Expect the standard fitment of cameras to ramp up during 2015.
The first hybrids went on sale in Australia in 2001, yet with the exception of the Camry Hybrid – which is popular with fleets and governments – their market share has been minimal (they’re still just 1.1 percent of the market). But we’re seeing more and more partially electric cars, something set to gather pace in 2015.
The impressive Tesla Model S has just gone on sale, as has the BMW i3. And Audi’s e-Tron is one of many plug-in hybrids due throughout the year. While pure electric cars have so far been unpopular, the chances of your next car having partial electric propulsion are set to grow over the next 12 months.
Wings that open and close are popular in F1 but the idea of aerodynamics that change depending on the speed or conditions is gaining pace. Already many mainstream European models use some form of active aerodynamics, whereby a flap may open or close at certain speeds to improve the air flow and reduce fuel use. Expect more mainstream manufacturers to fit active aerodynamic systems to new or updated models as the rush to save fuel and reduce emissions intensives.
Four, three, two…
2015 is shaping up to be the year when smaller capacity engines stamp their authority on the motoring world. BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid gets supercar performance with help from a three-cylinder engine, while the iconic Ford Mustang will be sold here with a four-cylinder turbo that’s decidedly un-muscly – but with 227kW it will probably do what most owners want. BMW, Audi and Volkswagen, too, are ramping up their three-cylinder offerings, while other European manufacturers are taking advantage of the increased acceptance of three- and four-cylinder engines.
In modern motoring the safety focus is all about stopping without the driver having to lift a leg. The top end of the new-car market has largely jumped aboard the autonomous emergency braking craze, or AEB for those in the know. The ability to detect an imminent collision and apply the brakes if the driver hasn’t is being seen as a win for reducing crash bills and a win for reducing the road toll.
Like all active safety systems, though, there are degrees with how effectively AEB systems do their job. Some auto braking systems only work when the radar cruise control is active (they’re technically not AEB) while others are limited to lower speeds, typically below 30km/h. The more useful ones work at most speeds without the need to activate them.
More for less
Expect to see new-car competition ramp up in 2015. The government is set to implement free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea, something that will affect more than 40 percent of the cars sold in Australia. Combined with exiting FTAs with Thailand the USA it means more than two thirds of the cars sold in Australia will dodge the 5 percent tariff lumped on imports from other countries. Many manufacturers have hinted they could be reluctant to drop prices, so may instead offer more equipment. Either way, consumers should be winners.
The one thing threatening to unravel any such move is a weakening Australian dollar. While most economists make weather forecasters look like geniuses with their often wayward predictions, there’s enough of a groundswell from financial experts to suggest the Aussie dollar that helped kill the local car industry is in for a slippery downward slide.
Even more SUVs, at the expense of small cars
The SUV boom that began in the 1990s is showing no sign of fizzing out. Three big new arrivals are slated for 2015 in the small SUV segment – the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. The newcomers promise to kickstart a segment with its fair share of anonymous and underwhelming entrants. But those sales will have to come from somewhere and it’s the small cars that look to be in the firing line. Sales of traditional small sedans and hatches have been trending down for a few years and there’s every chance that will continue when buyers realise they can get something chunkier and funkier for about the same price.
Once reserved for exotic supercars, aluminium is now relatively common in panels and bodies of mass produced vehicles. The just released next generation of the F-Series truck that’s popular in the US has an aluminium body, while the locally produced Holden Commodore uses some aluminium panels. The lighter metal will continue to flow through to more models as a way to reduce fuel use and improve agility and dynamics. Carbon fibre, too, is becoming more common, albeit predominantly at the top end of the market. BMW’s i cars – the i3 and i8 – each use it extensively and manufacturers are increasingly looking at ways to mass produce components from it.
Brown and out
Like jeans, stripes and pointy shoes, colours go through trends in the car world. We’ve been through the white and red phases, while blue has been popular in recent years too. Black, predictably, never goes out of fashion. But if the motor show stars of 2014 are anything to go by we’re in for many hues of brown in years to come. Mazda already offers “Titanium Flash Mica” in some of its latest models, while the Mercedes C-Class can be had in “Citrine Brown”. We’re prepared to bet the brown phase will be one colour trend with a limited lifespan…