At first glance, it might look like any other compact sedan, but slip behind the wheel and you’ll find a huge touchscreen display where you’d normally expect to see your car’s knobs and switches. Then, hitting the “start” button, you’ll notice almost complete silence as the vehicle turns on. That’s because the new Tesla Model 3 has replaced the familiar internal combustion engine with an electric drivetrain.
The auto industry is in the midst of a revolution more radical than anything it’s experienced since the days of pioneers like Henry Ford. Virtually everything about the automobile is expected to change, from the way it is powered to who’s driving it. (You or a computer?) By 2020, the first fully hands-free vehicles are expected to be on the road, and within just a few more years, several manufacturers intend to introduce vehicles that won’t even have steering wheels or pedals. Indeed, experts predict millions of Americans will give up their personal cars entirely in favor of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
But if you haven’t been in the new car market in a while, just walk into your local showroom to check out the new 2018 models. You’ll already find plenty of changes, starting with the explosive shift from sedans and coupes to sport- and crossover-utility vehicles. As recently as 2015, passenger cars accounted for 65 percent of Lexus sales. This year, that’s plunged to just 35 percent—and Toyota’s luxury brand is far from unique.
The Tesla Model 3 is at the front line of the revolution. Until now, battery-based vehicles have made up a limited niche, accounting for barely 3 percent of the total U.S. new-vehicle market. But 2018 is expected to mark a turning point. Tesla alone expects to sell about 500,000 battery-electric vehicles next year, nearly six times more than it sold in 2016. But it will face a growing number of competitors. Here are some trends you’ll be seeing in the 2018 fleet of vehicles.
Battery-electric vehicles can go a longer distance. General Motors actually beat Tesla to the mainstream market with the Chevrolet Bolt EV and will add two more long-range models over the next 18 months, with 20 planned by 2023. Long-range offerings will roll out from makers as diverse as Honda, Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi next year. Nissan has redesigned the original battery-electric vehicle, the Leaf, boosting range by 40 percent. Add new plug-ins and more conventional hybrids such as the Honda Clarity, Hyundai Ioniq, and Kia Niro—all debuting in the 2018 model year—and battery power is charging into the mainstream.
Autonomous driving can take over for short stints. As many as a half-dozen automakers will offer some level of hands-free technology for 2018. The new Nissan Leaf will debut the ProPilot Assist system, while the new Audi8 will include the Traffic Jam Assist, which allows the car to operate all but fully autonomously at speeds up to 37 mph.
Downsized sports cars will get improved performance. Even more traditional product lines are undergoing major changes this year. Like some muscle in your car? You’ll find plenty to choose from, including the jaw-dropping new Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, a coupe punching out a brutal 840 horsepower. There are still plenty of performance cars and large trucks powered by classic V-8s, but more and more models are downsizing their engines. Turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines are becoming the norm rather than the exception. The payoff is good performance when you need it, but great mileage when you’re light on the throttle.
Refined safety technology becomes more standard. Advanced driver assistance systems have been shown to prevent crashes and save lives. And the good news is that more and more vehicles are offering technologies such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind spot detection, whether as standard features or affordable options.
For real estate professionals who depend heavily on their vehicles, there’s another significant trend underway. Recent studies by J.D. Power and other research groups show that vehicle quality and reliability has hit record levels, and 2018 is expected to see that trend continue. So welcome to the revolution. The automobile is changing faster than ever before, and that’s reason to celebrate.