A swing through the New England International Auto Show press conferences and presentations this week in Boston showed that auto OEMs are highlighting continuing development of more electronics (at lower price points)along with debuting "halo" performance cars to bring buyers into the showrooms (albeit for more mundane vehicles).
Nowhere was the former trend more apparent than at Mazda, where its CX-9 SUV is now available with a blind-spot monitoring system. This is a radar-based stand-alone option for merely $200. Transmitters on each side in the rear bumper detect vehicles within the rear quarters that may not be visible to the driver using mirrors. The system functions when the CX-9 is traveling greater than 20 mphdisplaying a caution icon in the appropriate rear view mirror and issuing warning beeps if the turn signal is activated in the direction of potential danger.
The new Inifiniti EX35 small crossover vehicle carries on similar electronic feature development. New here is an Around View Monitoring system (left). Four cameras (one in the grill, rear hatch, and both side mirrors) provide a bird's eye view for the driver on a central dash screen (at right of image) for safety and parking assistance. Infiniti has also extended the functionality of its lane departure monitoring system from warning to prevention. Now a slight "tap" of the brakes is applied after an aural warning to help bring the car back from unintentional lane departures, as well as providing an additional cue to the driver.
Electronics impact style
Such features noted above point out the usefulness and critical nature of modern electronics for automotive safety. But the proliferation of microprocessors in the car is also having an effect on styling. Bryan Nesbitt, VP of design (North America) for General Motors, was at the show to help with the U.S. introduction of the new Saab Turbo X, a limited production run car that evokes the black Saab Turbos of the '80s (left). The Turbo X only comes in metallic black and incorporates the company's electronically-controlled Cross Wheel Drive (XWD) system for powering all four wheels (below).
I asked Nesbitt how the growth of microprocessor-based features in the car has affected his work as a stylist. He told me there was not a direct connection, but the reduction in size of many electronic systems has opened up space in the interior (such as the center stack, console, and doors) that allows for more storage such as bins and cup holders.
Exterior-wise he sees a big impact coming with more and more high-brightness LED lighting that would allow flexibility in lighting shapes, for more brand signature cues. LEDs do not require large, deep lighting fixtures that previously needed large holes in the body for mounting. Inside the cabin, LED lighting packaging will allow creativity in lighting environments, Nesbitt added.