Matthew Romack profile picture Matthew Romack 2 years ago
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The 2010s; Tech, Safety, and Crossovers oh my!

2020 Mazda CX-30
2020 Mazda CX-30

As we sit here, basking the glory of a new year, a new decade, many use this as a time for personal reflection, meditation, and to reminisce. We set goals for the new year and vow to keep them… at least through February, this time. But who cares about what’s happening in our personal lives, we’re here to hear about what happened in our car lives and in the automotive industry over the last decade!

The 2010s were an exciting time in the automotive world. We witnessed the rise of quirk and features loving Doug Demuro, and the hooptie buying Hoovie. A new hot hatch hit the shirking compact market, a newish luxury brand is embracing old school luxury, it looks like GM might actually do something, and the French are coming back, maybe, probably. But the 3 things that defined the last decade more than anything else are tech, safety, and crossovers. Let’s take a look back, and see what makes each of these factors important.

Tech

2020 Subaru Outback.
2020 Subaru Outback.

We love tech. Everyone has iPhones, Ipads, Xboxes. and tablets in our car by now, right? Tesla’s iconic single giant touchscreen controls pretty much everything, from the heated seats to the mirror controls. Even entry level cars, once known for low price and low tech, now have touchscreen infotainment controls. However, the push for more tech in cars isn’t anything new, and here are 3 reasons why.

  1. The Used Market
    The used car market, though oft forgotten in industry analyses, drives the auto industry in both sales and push for inclusion of new tech in cars.
    It’s a simple fact that dealers tend to make more money overall selling used cars. There are more of them available than new cars, and they’re also less expensive than new cars. However, obviously most people want new cars, given they’re filled with new tech and features to make Doug DeMuro drool. But of course, not everyone can afford a brand new car, especially given the average price of one in 2019 was just over 37k. But thanks to that much-maligned deprecation, when those cars enter the used market, they become affordable, and this gives even the most frugal consumer a chance to get their hands on some hot tech. For example, back in the 90s and early 2000s, heated seats weren’t something you would find on any sub 30k car new. But when the pricier cars that were equipped with them inevitably hit the used market, consumers found out that they liked heated seats, and then when they could afford new cars, they want heated seats. And furthermore, when they see a model that doesn’t come with heated seats, they ask the dealer “why should I spend 35K on a new car that doesn’t have the feature I want, when I can spend half that and get the feature I want in a new car?” Automakers took notice of this, and now even base models have features like heated seats.
  1. Tech at home and in our pockets.
    We are surrounded by tech these days, especially at home. We have smartphones, laptops, tablets and Wi-Fi everywhere we go. We can take our entertainment just about everywhere and anywhere these days, except our cars. That is, until now.
    Cars used to be pure transportation— there wasn’t anything to keep you entertained on a long drive, or on any drive for that manner. Then they gave us AM and FM radio, and that was the standard for decades. Some automakers experimented with in-car record players, but for the most part you were at the mercy of the DJ at WKRP. Then a team from Ford, GM, RCA, Motorola, and Lear Jet invented the 8Track. With this new invention, you could listen to your favorites hits anywhere your car happened to take you. Later cassette players in cars Then these became the standard, until we all got CD players at home, so our cars got them too. Then Apple changed the world with the iPod: now we could take hundreds of our favorite songs anywhere. So our cars got an iPod jack, then USBs and Bluetooth connectivity. Then the Smartphone took over and Apple Carplay and Android Auto have become standard in even base models. As our entertainment changed and become mobile, we demanded our cars change to accommodate that change, and so we now take our tech with us while we drive.

The last reason is safety, which we will cover next.

Saftey

The 2010s; Tech, Safety, and Crossovers oh my! - Blog

Motorweek occasionally posts Retro Reviews on their YouTube channel, and it’s always interesting to see how far automotive safety has come. In the 80s and 90s, shoulder belts, driver airbags, 5 MPH bumpers, optional ABS, and vented drum brakes were considered advanced safety features. Next came 4-wheel disc brakes, standard ABS, and standard driver and passenger airbags. After that, traction and stability control, and side airbags burst on the scene and improved safety even further. All this is a far cry from the padded dashboards and collapsible steering columns of the 1950s and 60s. Safety has come even further in the last 10 years.

Backup cameras, once reserved for the high-end luxury cars, are now standard on all models as of 2018 thanks to federal regulations, though most every model had it as an option or as standard by then. Now we enjoy 360 degree cameras, cameras that show us what’s in front of us below our line of sight, and some Chevy trucks can even see through trailers. The new Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade have a camera that shows you the blind spot when you use the turn signal. But cars having more cameras than the new iPhone isn’t the only game-changing safety innovation to hit the market over the last decade.
Smart cruise control, which made its debuted in the early 90s as a way of warning the driver when they approach a car, can now detect and maintain the distance between you and the car in front you. Its a significant improvement over standard cruise control, which just maintains speed indefinitely. It becomes even better when you add the stop and go feature, where the car will come to a complete stop and then start going again, when you combine Smart cruise control with lane keep assist, the car almost does drive itself, though I find Hyundai’s system to be a bit intrusive.

Auto emergency braking was also a game changer when it burst on the scene a few years ago. It helped us avoid backing into stuff, then it helped us avoid hitting the car in front of us. Automakers then added the ability to auto-brake for bikes and pedestrians, helping us avoid some of the most common accidents. On a similar note, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means we spend less time looking at our phones and sending text messages, I know you do it, so don’t deny it.

Most of these features are becoming standard in even base models today. Subaru has made Eyesight, its driver assist system, which includes auto emergency braking, and what not, standard on almost every model, expect on a the WRX base model with a 6-speed, and the STI. This focus on safety is one reason that Subaru is one of the fastest growing brands in America. Looking even further to the future, Tesla has been pioneering self driving tech for years now. Their advanced Autopilot system is considered the gold standard in self driving safety tech, though GM also has a good system in Cadillac’s Super Cruise, though it only works on certain roads and highways.
All of this safety tech has significantly reduced highway deaths and injuries when accidents do happen. The massive expansion of safety could mean the next generation of drivers may never have to back out of a parking place in a Suburban without a backup camera and parking sensors.

Crossovers

The 2010s; Tech, Safety, and Crossovers oh my! - Blog

Unfortunately, not all was merely heightening high tech wonderland in the automotive 2010s. There are few things that unite car fan boys more than the hatred of crossovers. And not without reason. Crossovers are generally boring, bland, and uninspired cars. They all look pretty much the same, drive the same, and are really just BORING to look at. However, they do offer more cargo space and passenger room, with more versatility than a sedan and without the doggedly clinging stigma still stuck to the station wagons of old. These cars have taken off over the last decade, and new models hitting the market every couple of years from almost every major brand. Despite my personal disdain for crossovers, I cannot deny the impact they have made on the industry.

One of the first crossovers to hit the market and make an impact was the 2001 Pontic Aztek. Although an abysmal sales flop for various reasons, enough people and automotive reporters appreciated the versatility, space, and car-like ride when compared to SUVs for the idea of the crossover to stick around, though usually in more appealing packages. Since the Aztek, crossovers have only gotten better and surpassed the sedan as a sales leader, and that trend has become highly apparent over the last decade.

Toyota sold over 400,000 Rav4s in 2019, and saw an almost 5% sales growth over 2018, this despite a 2% sales decline in the industry overall. The Rav4 has seen consistent sales growth since 2011, and is now Toyota’s best selling model. The Honda CR-V also sold well in the 2010s, selling over 380,000 units in 2019, with sales up 1% compared to 2018. Even GM got in on the action. Since its introduction in 2014, the Chevy Trax has likewise seen upward-trending sales, and in 2019 Chevy sold over 115,000 units, a whopping 29% sales increase from 2018.

Crossovers may be boring and uninspired compared to sports cars, and even sedans like the Mazda6, they sell very well, and thus make the automakers money. The money Crossovers bring in can and has been used to engineer and produce more fun-to-drive cars like the Miata or Supra. As much as it pains me, we have the Rav4 to thank for the return of the Supra. It made the money so we could make the fun.

Crossovers have become a staple of the market going forward. When even a small, low volume brand like Mazda introduced a new crossover for 2020, that’s proof they aren’t going anywhere fast.

Looking forward into this new decade, I’m excited. We have the opportunity to witness innovation at levels unseen since the 1980s. Tech is developing faster than we can keep up with, advancements in safety tech ensures we walk away from accidents instead of being rushed to hospitals (or the morgue,) and crossovers are ensuring automakers have enough money to give us the fun cars we want, So, lets raise a glass to the new decade and all the cool cars that await.