Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 2, 2014

Smart technology now common in cars

Smart technology making today's cars safer and more fuel efficient

By ISSAC FAST Correspondent
Goshen News

---- — GOSHEN — New cars are becoming lighter, cheaper to fill up at the pump and increasingly autonomous. Local car dealers are gearing up to sell the newest innovations from car manufacturers, from collision warning systems to electric vehicles.


Recent changes to auto technology have made cars more connected, efficient and safer. For example, many new cars come loaded with adaptive cruise control, an onboard radar that monitors the distance behind the next car. If a driver sets the vehicle’s cruise control too fast and starts to tailgate the next car, the adaptive cruise control feature automatically brakes the vehicle to maintain a safe following distance.

Another advancement is active park assist, which enables a car to park nearly by itself. All the driver has to do is apply gas or brake pressure, and the car steers itself into a parking spot.

Mike Evans, the sales manager at Lochmandy Autos, says some of these new technology and safety features are now standard across the board.

“They’ve really gone above and beyond on the safety features,” he said, “which is a good thing.”

Other new safety features commonly found in new cars include collision and lane departure warning systems, blind spot indicators, backup cameras, and navigation that warns drivers about traffic delays.

“I don’t even know how we made it so long without some of those technologies,” said Scott Flake, general manager of Eby Ford. He believes that many of the new advances in technology are an advantage to the consumer because they make driving safer and simpler.

Fuel economy

Big changes aren’t only happening to auto electronics. Many automakers are doing everything it takes to boost fuel economy.

For example, in January, Ford unveiled its 2015 F-150 at the Detroit Auto Show, featuring an aluminum body that makes the truck weigh about 700 pounds less than the 2014 model.

Jeep’s 2014 Grand Cherokee features a nine-speed transmission in order to keep the RPMs at a more stable and optimal rate for fuel consumption.

Car manufacturers have to meet certain government-regulated corporate annual fuel economy (CAFE) requirements, which essentially call for an average fuel mileage to be met by the company’s fleet.

“On the priority list (fuel economy) is number one, and that has to do with the price of gas,” Evans said. “People are more conscious about gas mileage because $4 per gallon and $2.50 per gallon is quite a big difference.”

While traditional gasoline cars are losing weight and getting smaller engines, hybrids are selling like never before, according to Flake.

“Within the last year, we have sold more hybrids collectively than I think I have in the 25 years I’ve been doing this,” Flake said.

Flake said hybrids nowadays are affordable and realistic for somebody to own one. Consumers can now find hybrids in nearly every model category, even among luxury cars and SUVs.

Others have concerns about the cost effectiveness of hybrids.

“The bang for the buck is not where it needs to be as of yet,” Evans said.

Ryan Klase, the general manager of Sorg Dodge, agrees.

“You can get a car that gets great fuel economy, but at what cost?” he said. “How much of a difference in the budget is five miles per gallon?”

Hybrids have become common choices among consumers who value excellent fuel economy. However, after seeing the increased fuel economy of normal gas vehicles, some people question whether the slight edge of a hybrid is worth the extra money.

Dzung Nguyen, the owner of Goshen Motors, hasn’t seen as many hybrids sell because many of the Hyundais he sells have four-cylinder gas engines that get close to 40 miles per gallon already.

Nguyen said hybrids get much attention because they are new technology, but warns of their folly.

“When you take a look at a hybrid, it’s a computer,” Nguyen said. “The software drives the technology, and when you have a glitch in the software you have trouble.”

Indeed, hybrids are highly reliant on advanced technology that hasn’t proved infallible. Earlier this month, Toyota had to recall nearly two million Priuses because of errors in the car’s software.

More and more automakers are releasing at least one hybrid vehicle into their fleet. But in some cases, manufacturers are going an extra step by releasing all-electric vehicles. The all-electric Nissan Leaf made waves when it was released in 2010, and other carmakers like BMW, Chevrolet, and Ford have followed suit.

Another future prospect for alternative car energy lies in hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are zero-emission, and they refuel faster than electric vehicles. Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda are releasing 2015 models of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Changing industry

Randy Sorg, president of Sorg Dodge, has experienced changes in the way people buy cars.

“The difference between now and seven or eight years ago is the Internet,” said Sorg. “The consumer is definitely more educated now.”

Most of the time, Sorg said, buyers know what they want before they come to the dealership.

“The average customer goes to 1.4 dealerships before making a purchase,” he said.

Nguyen also sees a change in how customers buy cars, particularly among younger patrons.

“They are environmentally conscious, but they’re not in love with cars like the older generation,” Nguyen said. “We have to be very ready to adapt to this trend.”

Older generations, he said, are more likely to remain loyal to a local dealer, whereas young buyers may not value the same type of loyalty.

“We have to prepare for that by providing all the information on the website,” said Nguyen.

Flake has used the Internet to his advantage in reaching distant buyers.

“A customer a couple hundred miles away,” Flake said, “is very much in our backyard today because of the World Wide Web.”