At every auto show, car companies trip over one another to tout the latest tech wizardry debuting in the machine of the moment. It's hard to parse the game-changing innovations from the sea of tricks, misfires, and half-baked duds. Over the years, I've seen great ideas that don't stick (four-wheel steering), good ideas poorly executed (BMW's original iDrive system), and gimmicks that never live up to their promise (voice-control systems, all of which seem to require fluency in some obscure Klingon dialect). But once in a while, there's the rare golden idea, like the intermittent windshield wiper or the stability-control system, that quickly proves to be indispensable and becomes standard issue. A little more than 10 years ago, the Lexus RX 300 wore a "VSC" badge to brag about its stability-control system. By 2012, every car sold in America had one. The question is, which of the new cars are rolling out the next must-have feature, and which ones are peddling the 2012 equivalent of Subaru's hidden center headlight from the eighties? I've identified five current tech features that are offbeat but should be ubiquitous a decade from now. And if they're not, feel free to key my flying Honda. Launch Gallery >>
The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf were the first electric cars on the market, and their competing approaches pitted the Leaf's pure electric power against the Volt's mash-up of batteries and a range-extending gas engine. The Volt formula seems to be winning. Similar plug-in hybrids are on the way from Ford, Honda, Cadillac, and Porsche. As charging times come down and range goes up, pure electrics will make sense for more people. But humans aren't always motivated by rationality. Perhaps you never drive more than 100 miles in a day, but what if you wanted to pick up and go visit Alaska? A plug-in hybrid would get you there, and an electric wouldn't. Plug-ins are our psychological bridge, a way to embrace the brave electric future while keeping one foot in the gas-soaked past.
Credit: Courtesy Cadillac