As climate change becomes more urgent for humanity to address, sharp eyes have turned toward cars, a leading contributor. However, vehicles are not a luxury, and many people rely on them to be able to survive, using them to go to work and perform errands to stay fed, clothed, and sheltered. Many car manufacturers have thus turned to engineering that uses sustainable energy such as bio-fuels, hybrids, and electric vehicles.
These initiatives by automakers are a step in the right direction, but there is more to driving than simply the vehicles we use. All of society has to be adjusted to accommodate sustainable cars, including the very way we look at them. A lot of infrastructure is being built that will support the cars of the near future, especially as many of the most influential auto manufacturers have pledged that all their models will be fully electric by 2035.
What can consumers look forward to? Several trends have appeared in new and upcoming auto models that will impact how we drive, how we ride, and even how we own our vehicles. In a twist that is unprecedented in most industries, many of these trends come from outside the automaking business.
The Future According to Now
Research and experimentation have brought new products and services into vehicles, and many of them have emerged from technologies traditionally connected to other sectors. Among the solutions to make cars more eco-friendly and sustainable come new materials, new products, and even new tax policies by local governments.
Here are just a few of the trends that point to what is on the horizon for the motor vehicle industry.
Lighting causes around 5% of CO2 emissions, and the halogen lamps used on older models contribute to this. LED bulbs are more eco-friendly because they save energy from the engine and thus emit less heat. They also last longer than standard bulbs, and their light is softer on the eyes of other drivers, while still being bright enough to drive by. All of this makes them more cost-efficient, since they are competitively priced to their halogen and HID counterparts. As more vehicles start being engineered with electric engines, there will also be more LED lights to compliment their efficiency. Eventually, there may not be any new vehicles with halogen lamps.
Green Number Plates
Not every state offers green number plates, but this initiative is growing as it offers incentives to drivers of cars that are eco-friendly. Like any other license plate, they are issued to a matching vehicle, only these tags have a green stripe that lets people know the car uses sustainable resources. Municipalities within the issuing state then offer incentives and free parking, and the car itself is subject to tax breaks, simply for being eco-friendly. This is just one of many ways infrastructure for sustainable fuels is being developed and encouraged.
The exterior and frame of the car weigh a lot, and the heavier the vehicle and its cargo is, the more fuel it needs to operate. Manufacturers are looking at more lightweight materials, including lighter metals, eco-friendly steel, and recyclable plastics. Vehicle production is also not eco-friendly, and manufacturers have been looking for ways to curtail their contribution to carbon emissions by inventing greener ways to produce the components of their cars. Recycled materials are especially attractive because they reduce manufacturing emissions even further as well as reducing waste in the environment. Some governments are even considering mandates that vehicles include a certain percentage of recycled plastics for parts like dashboard and bumpers.
Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicles
Cars that run on a combination of gas and electric are called partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs) or hybrids. There are already numerous models available, and many well-known and classic models are being re-engineered to use this technology. The combustion engine works together with the electric system to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency. Plug-in hybrids allow drivers to operate entirely on electric power, as long as the charge is not exceeded between plug-ins. Most plug-in vehicles will fit into either a 120-volt or 240-volt outlet, which means it can be plugged into a wall socket or, for faster charging, the same type of socket used by washers.
The next step from hybrid vehicles are those that run entirely on electric power. These were made popular in the United States by Tesla, but there are now a wide selection of electric vehicles (EVs) on the market from traditional manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Ford. They are more quiet and have very few emissions, with many vehicles having none at all. Several prominent vehicle manufacturers have pledged to turn their entire lines into EVs by 2040, so this is one trend drivers are bound to see more of. Currently, engineers are seeking ways to improve the batteries in EVs, so they are less reliant on rare materials that are difficult and destructive to obtain.
5G and Connectivity
As wireless providers continue to build their 5G infrastructure, changes in how society functions are inevitable. Cities and other municipal areas are applying 5G to everything from traffic patterns to emergency services, and vehicles that are connected to 5G will find these “smart cities” to be more efficient to navigate. Individual cars connected to wireless services are already becoming the norm, but imagine a car that can take you to your location, find parking, let you know if there are traffic delays, and call an emergency if you are in an accident. Connectivity is already changing how we shop, how we entertain ourselves, and how we conduct business, and many manufacturers are partnering with online services to fill this demand.
There have already been experiments with cars that drive themselves and programmers are coming closer to making them road-ready, especially as 5G infrastructure becomes the norm in many areas. While many people believe this refers to cars that don’t need drivers at all, there are levels of autonomy and being fully driverless isn’t necessarily the goal. Many of the lower levels of autonomy, such as cruise control and automatic brakes, are already implemented in some models, and most current research still requires human intervention to override the automation. Imagine driving to a location, telling your car to park itself, and calling it back when you’re ready to leave.
Mobility as a Service
Rather than buying a car and incurring expenses like fuel and insurance costs, there are several trends that point to sharing transportation. Rideshare services already have taken control of paid local transportation by allowing individuals to use their own cars to drive passengers. Many of them are now offering use of their own vehicles to rideshare drivers that don’t own cars. This could easily expand into the sharing of vehicles through such apps, similar to a rental, except the vehicle comes to you on demand and for a shorter period of time, such as a few hours. Residents of urban areas may choose to do this rather than wrestle with parking and maintenance costs.
More Charging Stations
As more hybrids and EVs have appeared on the roads, the need for refueling stations has also increased. This means filling a demand for more charging stations, and several types of businesses have answered the call. Many sports stadiums, airports, and municipal areas such as parks and museums have installed areas for vehicles to charge while drivers use the venue. The increase in vehicles that use electric power, whether entirely or partially, will only encourage more investment in charging stations, especially at traditional gas stations and rest stops. Another factor in charging such vehicles is finding ways to make electric sustainable without fossil fuels, which means power companies and environmental engineers are getting in on the planning.
Vehicle Tax Credits
Another way governments are contributing to sustainable vehicles is by offering tax credits for eco-friendly cars. While plans like green number plates provide long-term benefits to residents who can obtain them, vehicle tax credits are a large, one-time break that comes with purchasing the vehicle. This is offered by some states as an incentive to buy more cars that are eco-friendly, and it has helped boost the sales of sustainable vehicles. In fact, a few manufacturers have exceeded their sales quotas for such tax breaks, prompting the federal government to consider extensions of the program.
Sustainable vehicles will also impact how cargo is transported across the country. As the move is made to autonomous vehicles, that also includes the trucks that haul goods across the country. Many freight companies are working toward the highest level of automation as the push is made to produce vehicles that are both connected and eco-friendly. This move has a drastic impact on many jobs, but it also allows freight companies to transport goods more efficiently as their operation schedules will not be based on the limitations of human drivers. A likely scenario would be that autonomous trucks will need human attendants no matter how high their level of autonomy, and when goods can be transported more quickly, people will buy them faster, stimulating the economy.
Public transportation has become a concern for the environment as mass transit vehicles are not known for their fuel efficiency. That is changing worldwide as cities address their busses, trans, and other forms of public transportation. One of the biggest changes to municipal mass transit has already succeeded in cities like London and Curitaba, Brazil, where buses have been converted to using electric, hybrid, or biodiesel rather than fossil fuels. As the success of these and other cities are monitored, more municipal areas will re-evaluate their own mass transit.
These days, it seems as though cell phones are more secure than cars or houses when it comes to entering them for use. As more vehicles adapt WiFi technology and connectivity, apps are being developed so drivers can use their cell phones for a number of remote purposes, including unlocking and starting their vehicles. Smart car technology allows users to be connected to their cars at all times, and this quality will be further enhanced as cars become more autonomous. In addition to making it harder to steal a car, geofencing technology will also allow users to track their vehicles in case of other emergencies.
Customer Service and Emergency Response
Connectivity will allow drivers to have a one-on-one relationship with manufacturers. Being able to reach out online to handle maintenance or have questions answered immediately is becoming a part of the services offered as incentives to buy vehicles. If the driver needs anything from the manufacturer, reaching out is just a touchscreen or voice command away. Should a vehicle experience an emergency such as an accident, geofencing will allow vehicles to be located no matter where they are, even if the driver is unconscious. As more manufacturers offer connected services to their infotainment packages, more of these services will be provided by third parties or even developed within the industry.
Eco-friendliness affects the inside of the vehicle as well as the outside. A major source of waste from vehicles comes from interiors that use animal products, which creates a web of pollutants from breeding and maintaining livestock, including feeding and disposing of animal waste. Leather has been protested as being cruel to the animals, and other materials such as wool have also been re-examined as materials for upholstery. This has led to the development of both synthetic materials and plant-based solutions so drivers and passengers can enjoy the ride.
Growing Green Technology
As the effects of climate change become more urgent to human survival, more automakers are committing to play their part in reducing the impact of vehicles on the environment. A variety of emerging sectors are now playing a part in expanding the utility and efficiency of our automobiles. The continual search for eco-friendly solutions to maintain our standard of living will certainly continue to find its way into our vehicles as they become smarter and more connected.