By Mary DellaValle
As automotive service providers, you’ve undoubtedly seen an evolution in vehicle technology, body styles, configurations, interiors and accessories over the years, and would probably agree that the changes only continue to accelerate with each passing year.
Lots of dynamics factor into the finished product, but the biggest advancements in the vehicle technology of late seem to relate to either emissions standards, fuel economy or consumer preferences, as vehicle’s transition to conform to accelerated lifestyles.
With prices for regular gasoline averaging nationally at $3.50 a gallon, hybrid cars are gaining popularity every day. There are currently about 1.1 million hybrids on the road. Within five years, expect them to account for 20-25% of all new car and light trucks sales. Sooner than later, you should be gearing up to work on these vehicles. [As a side note, the top three models on Consumer Reports’ new list of the “top 12 gas savers” are hybrids: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic hybrid and Toyota Camry hybrid.]
We can also expect to see changes to the vehicle’s interior to more closely mirror a home-like atmosphere, and offer conveniences to ease and simplify drivers’ hectic schedules/lifestyles. The latest trends for 2008 outlined below (Courtesy of a recent SEMA eNews report) will give you a glimpse into what you can expect to see, as automakers continue to adapt their vehicles to cater to consumer preferences.
The iPod shows no sign of slowdown any time soon. Now, there are even “disc-less” head units, aftermarket radios without a CD mechanism, that are designed primarily to accommodate an iPod or to access music on some other medium, such as SD cards.
Another trend that will pick up momentum this year is Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, especially with more laws banning handheld mobile-phone use (such as the one that goes into effect in California this summer). Added features for 2008 include caller ID, access to a phone’s address book and wireless streaming of music made possible using a Bluetooth standard called Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP).
The in-car navigation category is also poised for more growth with the popularity of “portable” nav systems and units that are within consumers’ price ranges. One major nav trend for 2008 is piping-in information to the cockpit, thanks to navigation system supplier partnerships with content providers, such as MSN Direct. Car occupants can get on-demand information on fuel prices, movie theater locations and other such “location-based” services.
Another trend to watch this year will be the increasing availability of “live TV” in vehicles (Sirius launched its Sirius TV technology in Chrysler and Dodge minivans last year).
Keeping abreast of hybrid vehicle advances and emerging in-vehicle technology is a first-step in pursuing future service opportunities for your shop, gives you a heads-up on repair implications as it relates to vehicle electronics, diagnostic issues, and computer-controlled and integrated systems, and keeps you in-tune with your customers’ vehicle preferences and choices. Step on the gas; it’s going to be an interesting ride…