Cars of the future provide almost every convenience

Cars of the future provide almost every convenience  
Filed under:
Concept Cars, New Models, News, Technology
on 03/26/2006

Lexus LS 4602007 Mercedes-Benz S550

The car of the future is out there now. Take the all-new 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550, for instance.

It's bristling with technology and features that surely will filter down to smaller Mercedes products in a year or two -- an almost deadly accurate infrared technology-based night vision system, a system that automatically prepares you for a crash if the car detects that one is almost inevitable.

Another system to apply extra pressure to the brakes to help avoid a collision. And all of that is just for starters.

Mercedes is not alone, of course. Other companies are joining the relentless push toward more technology. Lexus' top-of-the-line luxury sedan, the LS 460, will be able to park itself when it hits the market in the fall. Infiniti's M45 offers a feature that warns you if you cross the center line in a road. And Acura's RL can tell you when traffic is blocked and offer you a way around it all.

And here's potentially the biggest technology scoop of all: Honda has announced that it will begin producing the FCX, a car that will be powered by fuel cells. It starts coming down the assembly line in extremely limited numbers in 2010.

The futuristic, boldly designed four-door sedan -- which likely would move quickly off showroom floors because of its dramatic styling, let alone its technology -- will have a driving range of 350 miles per charge.

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Lexus LS 460, will be able to park itself when it hits the market in the fall.

General Motors officials have said they hoped to have fuel-cell-powered vehicles on the road by 2010.

Fuel cells combine oxygen and hydrogen to create an electrical current that drives an electric motor. Pollution? All you'll ever see is water vapor.

If your head is spinning just thinking about all this new stuff, you're not alone. Consumers are being bombarded with one of the biggest, splashiest displays of technology ever, with new features hitting the market each model season.

"You might just look at all this and think, 'How much more can carmakers do now?' They heat my seats, cool my seats and adjust my temperature in my area of the car instead of another," said Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book. "And 14 speakers are more than I have in my own home. I don't adjust the temperature at my home for my chair vs. my wife's chair. And my easy chair doesn't blow cold air through my back and behind, either."

Some of the features are important breakthroughs that make cars safer, easier to drive, or more efficient. But others are nothing more than sheer one-upmanship, Mr. Nerad said. And it's sometimes tough to see which category some items fall into.

Just about everybody agrees that the Mercedes' technology introduced on its S550 will be seen soon on other cars.

Click to enlarge

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550

Perhaps the most exciting advance is the "Pre Safe" system, which goes into operation when the car senses a panic stop or a skid. It closes the sunroof, raises the rear head restraints, adjusts all seat backrests and cushions, inflates the supporting bolsters in the front and rear seat backs, closes the side windows and tightens seat belts.

"Right now, pre-collision systems are limited to luxury models, but as the technology becomes more common, expect midprice models to begin offering similar systems before the end of the decade," writes Lawrence Ulrich, Money Magazine's auto writer in its March issue.

The night vision system is so accurate that you can make out the patterns in people's clothing from a considerable distance away. Cadillac also had a night vision system several years ago that really created a stir. But Mercedes' system makes the Cadillac version look primitive and useless.

But is this a piece of equipment you really need? Mr. Ulrich thinks not.

He wrote: "I've tried several systems, and the safety benefit seems dubious. On a dark two-laner, should I really be looking at a dashboard screen? Am I not better off just watching the road?"

Of course, technology can hurt as well as help car companies.

Some BMW dealers privately concede that the complicated iDrive system that controls audio, climate, navigational and other functions on the 7 Series sedan caused so much of an uproar among older buyers a couple of years ago that they ended up trading them in or demanding that BMW buy them back.

The system has been refined, improved and added to other cars in the BMW lineup, but car writers and many consumers still complain angrily about it.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz officials frankly admit that recent new technology has been a source of quality control problems, mainly electrical or computer difficulties.

"They say it will take work to win people back, and they have to deal with the fact that some people have lost confidence in them. So they say they will work extra hard to make sure the latest models are as perfect as they can be," Mr. Nerad said.

Mercedes executives said they had thoroughly tested the new technology in the new S Class, including extensive field trials with 30 vehicles and more than 200 participating drivers with the brake assist system alone.

For his part, Mr. Nerad said a consumer rebellion against too much new and/or unnecessary technology might be in the making.

"I think we are reaching a threshold," he said. "At some point soon, you will have such a level of complication that people will rebel against technology overall. The more things we have, the more will break. Even brands like Mercedes are backing off some of their technology because it potentially hurts their image."

Via: Pittsburgh Post-Gaze

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