Since 2010 models are already starting to appear in showrooms, it's a good time to take a decade-ahead look at what we'll be driving in 2020. A panel of experts—as in the folks who will be deciding what those models will be—gathered to address the subject at the recent Automotive News World Congress. While they didn't agree on everything, the consensus was that in 10 years, cars will be smaller, lighter and have more variety in powertrains and fuel choices.
Such a move would reverse the trend of the past several decades where models grew in size and weight.
The biggest change for consumers will be the variety of choices in propulsions systems to consider. The panelists said to expect plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, in addition to the hybrids and diesel vehicles already on roads.
The group of experts included the heads of new model and powertrain development for the Detroit Three, the CEO of Hyundai, and the chief technology officer at Magna International, a major auto supplier. Though not represented on the panel, the largest Japanese and European manufacturers would likely concur with the 2020 forecasts, based on their announced product plans.
Losing weight was a major theme. That would be the main development in coming decade according to Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development. Hyundai's CEO John Krafcik said he expected the average car of 2020 to be the size of Hyundai's subcompact Elantra—or the similar Ford Focus. The group expects small engines to evolve to give some of the fuel economy gains needed to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards.
Barb Samardzich, Ford's vice president for global powertrain engineering, said she concurred that the cars of 2020 will have to be lighter, smaller and more efficient, but thought government regulation would help determine the powertrain choices. Magna International's chief technology officer, Ted Robertson, said the wide variety of powerplants will proliferate, including more fuel-efficient small gas engines, hybrids, diesels, and electric vehicles. Robertson echoed the theme of small, saying that these powertrains will be used in vehicles that have been optimized with weight-saving materials.
The panelists expressed little doubt about the downsizing of vehicles and the emergence of hybrid and electric powertrains. "The only question is how fast the new technologies are going to roll out," said Jon Lauckner, GM vice president for global program management.
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