Dec 10, 2008

9 car technologies that could save Detroit

The U.S. government is wrapping up its haggling over a bailout of the auto industry, and since We the People are shelling out at least $15 billion to the Big Three auto makers, let's dictate tough terms to them before we hand over the cash.

Let's require them to build in some serious tech with all that extra money they'll have left over by restructuring, eliminating golden parachutes for executives, and cutting cushy wages for six-figure factory workers.

Government is force, and now that we have a stake in the car companies, it's time to start doing some forcing. Here's our list of mandatory standard equipment, for every car built from 2010 on, counting down in order of importance:

9. iPod Docks Everywhere
Forget all those cup holders — we want iPod docks in the front and back seats. Add a slot-loading iPod holder to every car. Insert your iPod or iPhone, and then it's docked to the car, giving you hands-free calling and all your music, playing through the car's sound system, and the list of songs displayed right there on the screen in front of you.

8. Embrace Solar Power
Get used to putting solar panels on the roof of every car, and then when the photovoltaic tech gets more efficient, they may be able to completely power some cars for the drive back home. We've seen the beginning of this idea, so run with it, Detroit! Cars are sitting in sunny parking lots all day, just begging to soak up all that solar power.

7. More Auto-Parking Systems
Why are Lexus LS460s the only cars smart enough to park themselves? Surely U.S. automakers can figure out how this Advanced Parking Guidance System is done and make it so. On your way to creating a practical drive-itself robocar like those brainiacs at Stanford have already proven can be done, at least copy the Japanese on this automatic parking trick.

6. Install GPS with Internet Link
Navigation devices are becoming a commodity now, so what if the government forces a standard on the car companies to embrace an Internet-connected GPS system like the DASH Express, where each car reports to all the others about traffic? Make it mandatory in every new car, with a big screen front and center, with points-of-interest, GPS navigation, and traffic/weather warnings, all connected together like a big happy social net.

5. Make Back-up Cameras Standard
With that GPS screen front and center, why not wire it up to a backup camera? Video cameras are small and cheap — how hard can it be have one of these in every car? We don't want to see one more kid run over by parents because they couldn't see behind them at a low angle. Another lifesaver.

4. Take Some Design Chances
Sure, you made that Chevy Volt more aerodynamic, but now it looks like every other econobox on the market, a mere distorted shadow of its former badass-looking self. You can't dumb down design and call it new. Take a cue from Apple: design is important.

3. Make ABS and ESC Standard
Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) have proven to save lives, and are already nearly ubiquitous on U.S. cars, so it would be no big deal to make them standard equipment across the board. Take it a step further with standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC), that tech that detects and prevents skids by judiciously applying brakes and cutting power.

2. Build a Tiny Car Like the Smart
Why are almost all U.S. cars so damn big? Even the "small" cars from Detroit are rotund. Build tinymobiles like the Smart ForTwo (which is going electric in 2010, by the way) and Mini Cooper, and when gas skyrockets to $5 a gallon, you'll sell zillions of them. Make them electric like BMW's Mini E, and nobody will have to pay $150 for a fill-up ever again.

1. Build More Electric Hybrids
Okay, this one's got to happen, and you're already most of the way there. Just stop making hybrid SUVs, a crazy idea that's like drinking a Diet Coke with your triple chocolate fudge sundae. And yeah, you're the ones who've been brainwashing everyone that SUVs are a good idea — knock that off while you're at it.