By MARK RICHARDSON
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, January 12, 2018
Most car makers agree: The next 10 years will see more change in the auto business than the past 20 - and there's been a lot of change in those last two decades.
At the turn of this century, there were no electric or semi-electric production cars; the most advanced vehicle powertrain was in the firstgeneration Toyota Prius hybrid. There was no radar available to sense other vehicles on the road and most cameras still used film. Car radios had either tape decks or CD players and texting while driving just didn't exist.
Today, vehicles are so far advanced from that it's mind-boggling. So what can we expect in just another decade?
The next target date cited by auto makers as a technical tipping point is 2025: That's when they're aiming for cars to drive themselves and for electric batteries to be more popular than internal-combustion engines.
What will it take for a vehicle in 2025 to be named the Car of the Year?
We asked four car makers to look into their crystal balls (and their vehicles already in development) to help us glimpse the future.
PRESIDENT, GENERAL MOTORS CANADA
"The technology that would go into the car is certainly under development now," Stephen Carlisle says. "Do we know what the car is that we'll be launching in 2025? It's a little too soon to say, but you can start to draw some assumptions."
General Motors has given itself some very public deadlines for the next few years: 20 new allelectric vehicle models by 2023 and one million electric GM vehicles on the road by 2025.
It's working on hydrogen-powered vehicles and just debuted its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) concept, a truck platform that's quiet and autonomous. The U.S. Army is already interested because SURUS would be very difficult to detect on a battlefield.
The Car of the Year won't be an armoured personnel carrier - or at least we hope not - but Carlisle says it will probably be influenced by the SURUS's development.
"By 2025, there'll be a lot more electric vehicles in the market. But for the Car of the Year, it'll be something that breaks through, so will it be just another electric car? Maybe we're not so far from it being something like a [hydrogen] fuel-cell, but it has to be something with zero emissions.
"It'll challenge some of the physical parameters that we deal with now, where battery electric vehicles have some limitations with their batteries, with the types of vehicles we can put them in - whereas fuel cells don't."
PRESIDENT, HYUNDAI CANADA
"Our business plans in Canada go out 10 years, so we have a forecast of where we're going to be in 2025," Don Romano says. "We believe the direction is definitely going to be electric, but it's about what powers the electric. I would say the electric car of the future is going to be a hydrogen car."
Hyundai already has a fuel-cell-powered Tucson on the road. It's available to lease to a handful of qualified drivers who live near the Vancouver hydrogen fuelling station that's open to the public.
There's no point having others available elsewhere because there's nowhere else they can be easily refuelled. There aren't any public service stations in Canada that sell hydrogen - yet.
"If the plug-in electric car gets to the point where it can be recharged in five minutes and you can get a 1,000-kilometre range, then I think it's game over. There's your Car of the Year, and it will say Hyundai on it because we'll be leading in that technology.
But I don't see that happening."
Will it drive itself? "It's going to have incredible autonomous systems in it, but you're still going to require a driver behind the wheel," Romano says, in part because the legislative question of who's at fault in an accident will make progress slow.
And behind the wheel of the Car of the Year in 2025 - what will the cabin look like?
"There will be very few knobs. You'll talk to your car," Romano says. "In the same way Alexa or Google Home interact with us today, your car will interact the same way. It talks to you, you talk to it. It has full connectivity with your digital world - definitely by 2025."
VICE-PRESIDENT, TOYOTA CANADA
More than just a lack of knobs and switches in the best car of 2025, Toyota predicts there will be greater use of screens to control it and enhance the drive.
"It'll start as heads-up displays on the windshield, but I think you'll see glazing become part of intelligent displays," Stephen Beatty says. "The glass on the side windows, as well - life is turning into a screen.
"We used to build a lot of vehicles with drop-down screens and DVD players, but the reality is, people in the back seat are already carrying all types of screens with them.
They've got glass all around them and it's relatively easy to turn that into display space."
Beatty is more ambitious in his prediction for cars that drive themselves, but sees limits to their practicality. "I think they'll be on the road, but they'll be operating in pretty welldefined spaces," he says, such as only permitted on controlled expressways or perhaps in downtown cores. "It will be very difficult to have the level of reliability in autonomy when you have a mixed roadway of cars with full autonomy and cars with no intelligence at all." However, as aerodynamics and safety improve, cars are becoming standardized in their shapes and features. Beatty says car makers must not lose sight of the basic appeal of the vehicles.
"By 2025, I hope to be able to pick up The Globe and Mail and read that Toyota is the car company that's still talking about enthusiastic driving," he says.
PRESIDENT, MERCEDES-BENZ CANADA
Mercedes-Benz's plan for the next decade is to move forward with CASE, which is Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric.
Brian Fulton believes many more drivers will share vehicles; Mercedes'S Car2Go program already has more than 14 million people signed up around the world to share ownership of Mercedes and Smart cars.
Those people will want to be instantly connected to whatever car they're getting into, and in a 2025 Mercedes, "the digital experience will be second to none," he says.
"The customer does not want to step into the vehicle and be disconnected from their phone. We want to bring it all into the interior design.
"Will there be a key fob? No. Will the dash look different? Absolutely. The car is going to be able to analyze the driver's behaviour and interpret their needs and adapt accordingly to the customer's mood. ... It will really make the driver experience very customized and very user-friendly."
It almost goes without saying that, as with those other auto makers vying for Car of the Year in 2025, Fulton believes the winner will be electric and "mostly" autonomous and it could well be powered by a hydrogen fuelcell. Mercedes has already announced that at least 25 per cent of all the cars it sells in 2025 will be either pure electric or plug-in hybrids.
And none of this is fanciful, or pie in the sky.
"We know what our product infrastructure is going to look like," he says. "We're going out 10 years and we're projecting what the product lineup will look like in all the markets, and we know the products that are coming.
"I can tell you, by the time we get there, we're going to take the whole connected car for granted. The vehicle is going to be more than just a car. It will be an extension of everything you do."
Toyota's Fine-Comfort Ride vehicle is a concept, but its hydrogen powertrain, customized cabin and information screens available on all windows offer a glimpse at what may be on offer in 2025.
Top: Mercedes-Benz's plan for the 10 years is to move forward with CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric. Above: GM just debuted its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure concept, a truck platform that's quiet and autonomous.
TOP: MERCEDES-BENZ; ABOVE: GENERAL MOTORS