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From Model Ts To Microprocessors — How Cars Have Changed

Today’s Consumers Expect More Features in Their Vehicles as Technology Grows
TUSTIN, Calif. (April 15, 2009) — You have some free time. You decide to plug in the laptop and surf the Internet using your wireless connection. After a few minutes you grab a cold soda out of the refrigerator, recline your seat and decide to watch some satellite television. And you’ve done all of this in a parking lot waiting for your child’s soccer practice to end.
Today many comforts of home as well as their technologies are available in your car, so you never have to be far from the entertainment, information and luxuries you enjoy. This is quite a departure from the days of the Model T Ford when cars weren’t even equipped with fuel gauges or electric starters. Some of today’s cars can be started with the push of a button from yards away.
“Features that were once the stuff of science fiction are now common on even entry-level cars,” said George Peterson, President and CEO of AutoPacific, a Tustin, Calif. automotive research firm which has been conducting consumer insight research since 1986. “The newest, most advanced features usually appear first on luxury vehicles and then migrate throughout as the technology becomes less expensive. Our research has revealed there is strong and growing demand for all types of new technology in vehicles, with safety features having the most demand.. For example, many drivers are interested in vehicles that will stop themselves in emergency situations, warn you when other cars are too close, or even parallel park themselves.”


The 2009 BMW 750Li sedan exemplifies the technological innovation that is now expected in the most exclusive cars. The BMW flagship offers, among its systems, a night vision display that can warn the driver of nearby pedestrians, lane-departure warning, parking distance control, head-up instrument cluster display, 80-gigabyte, hard-drive-based navigation system and satellite radio.
Auto companies understand the need to continually surprise and delight buyers. The engineers and designers responsible for creating your next new car are working on an ever-growing number of features that can keep you connected while on the go, reduce accidents risk, enhance driving comfort and improve the environment inside and outside the car. AutoPacific’s glossary of advanced features currently lists 65 high-tech options that just a few years ago were only imagined.
Among the safety options available on cars and trucks today are active blind-spot detection systems which warn drivers when another car is positioned near the rear or side of their vehicles, areas typically difficult for drivers to see. Some vehicles feature drowsiness alert systems, which sound an alarm or increase the sound system’s volume when it detects driver inattentiveness. Then there are collision warning features which alert drivers when vehicles are too close, like Volvo’s recently introduced “City Safety” system which will automatically stop the vehicle when a driver’s car gets too close to the car in front of it.
Improving in-car air quality and reducing risk of illness, some vehicles now include electronic air purification systems to keep outside particles and allergens from entering the car. And to keep outside sound levels down other systems employ noise cancellation technology developed originally by headphone companies.
And things get really tech-focused with entertainment systems. Navigation systems, satellite television, and high-definition radio are increasingly common in today’s cars. More and more automakers are offering iPod or MP3 player docks, hands-free communication systems and hard drives for music storage, complete with USB ports. Drivers can even look up fuel prices, get real-time traffic or weather information, or movie times and locations while behind the wheel. You can even find the scores for your favorite pro or college team — real-time.
For parents, Ford has introduced a system that allows parents to limit the volume on an entertainment system when their teenage driver borrows the family car. The system also has a speed limiter. Aftermarket companies offer online vehicle tracking devices, or “teen trackers,” which help mom and dad know exactly where their teen is while driving.
AutoPacific’s Future Attribute Demand Study (FADs) has been collecting feature preference information from American drivers since 1993. Early on, FADs determined that drivers really do not want fax machines in their cars. The survey also showed that in-vehicle cellular phones had little attraction when cell phones became small enough to carry in a pocket. More recently, FADs predicted the demise of cassette tape decks in favor of CD changers, and then CD changers giving way to in-vehicle hard drives for music storage. Do American drivers want Internet in their cars? AutoPacific’s FADs research gives an idea of demand by vehicle type and by driver demographics.
Have we reached the holy grail of automotive features? “No way,” says AutoPacific’s Peterson, “The next step will see the vehicle being the receiver for the driver’s personal information device. The driver’s iPhone will interface by Bluetooth with the receiver and monitor in the car. Through voice commands the driver will use the telephone functions, navigation functions, access the Internet and use the phone for in-vehicle diagnostics. There are many, many ways that companies are developing today to enhance the interactivity of the driver with the car. Stay tuned.”
About AutoPacific
AutoPacific is a future-oriented automotive marketing research and product-consulting firm. Every year AutoPacific publishes a wide variety of syndicated studies on the automotive industry. The firm, founded in 1986, also conducts extensive proprietary research and consulting for auto manufacturers, distributors, marketers and suppliers worldwide. Company headquarters and its state-of-the-art automotive research facility are in Tustin, California, with an affiliate office in the Detroit area. Additional information can be found on AutoPacific’s websites: http://www.autopacific.com and http:/.vehiclevoice.com.
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Contacts:
Dan Hall, AutoPacific, (714) 838-4234, dhall@autopacific.com
Dan Smith, PCGCampbell, (310) 224-4954, dsmith@pcgcampbell.com

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