I recently watched a recap of the New York auto show to see what new car models and features where going to be released by the main U.S. automakers in hopes to see what new car models where being unveiled in the next few years. What I found was that by the end of the year we should all be driving something that resembles a futuristic space ship. I know that sounds preposterous but hear me out. The international auto shows that display major car makers’ products, have been unveiling some of the most amazing (and sometimes hideous) concept cars for the world to see. But what really is the purpose of these concept cars? Sometimes they are to display a current platform model overhaul, sometimes they are to introduce a new and innovative technology that will make driving safer, and sometimes they just seem to be there to shout “Look at Me!”. So what should consumers take away from these marketing campaigns and what should we really think about concept cars?
To answer this question first we should look back over the past decade or two to see what have been some of the head turning market positions taken automakers. For this I look towards Mercedes Benz. Mercedes has been established as a luxury car brand which caters to customers who expect ultimate quality and a supreme driving experience. However, a little known fact about Mercedes Benz is that they have a history of producing cars with the most advanced technology features that people might not expect from brand that offers customized leather stitching and real polished wood steering wheels. The S-class luxury sedan has been notable in this field by being a front runner for first to market with the following technologies:
- first to market with automatic braking system (ABS) on a production vehicle
- first luxury sedan with a diesel engine
- first car to offer seatbelt pre-tensioners and driver side airbag
- first luxury hybrid vehicle
The list goes on but the point is that these features have become standard options for most production vehicles and have even become mandated by government safety regulations. However, at the time of their release these features where new and different and were year(s) ahead of the rest of the auto industry. And more importantly they were introduced during unveiling of the next S-Class platform concept. So although it may be difficult to look past a luxury brand label, as consumers we should be more attentive to the tech upgrades introduced in automakers’ flagship model concept cars to get a real glimpse of what is on the horizon.
The exciting new technology unveiled at shows such as the New York Auto Show or the L.A. Auto show also gives us a look into how different automakers are planning on positioning themselves for the next few years. The auto shows not only shed light as to where the market will trend over the foreseeable future, but it tells us as consumers who is likely to be the brand that comes out on top in each segment. As leading companies such as Mercedes Benz bring innovation to the marketplace they establish their position as an industry leader in safety, style, and engine quality and they set the standard for the rest automotive market. Whoever is the first to successfully bring the technology to market solidifies themselves as the brand that can provide the best driving experience and that is what we should be on the lookout for.
One example of Mercedes setting the trend for the auto industry is their recent introduction of “Collision Prevention Assist” which is a huge milestone in the auto industry not just for highway safety improvements but because of what it offers as the next step in vehicle autonomy. The “Collision Prevention Assist” is a way for cars to automatically stop themselves if the driver is not paying attention or does not accurately judge the distance they need to stop before hitting a car in front of them. The technology behind “Collision Prevention Assist” is also offered in their “adaptive cruise control” which allows drivers to set the car to automatically change its highway cruising speed to match that of the cars around it.
On the surface these may seem like two features which are neat to have but a majority of the market may not be willing to pay for these options if they come at a premium, especially because they are featured on a high end luxury model. As consumers we should look past the exclusivity of these features and get excited for two main reasons. Reason #1 is that even though they may not be available on the family sedan, if the history of the industry tells us anything, it means that not too far in the distant future these features will not only be available on more affordable value brands but they will be required standard features on all new vehicles. The second reason is that we get insight as to what the next level of tech the auto industry has to offer. Once market leaders such as Mercedes establish a position of reliability with their “self-guided” driving features, they will be better positioned to first to market with the ultimate concept car: Autonomous vehicles!
So after following all of the concepts that come from the international auto show, the major takeaways can be summarized by major improvements in driver safety features and engine efficiency that are promising indicators of the automotive market. On the surface the market positions may not be obvious because of the pin-up style concept cars but if we peel back the layers we get a better understanding of what each brand has to offer. So the real question at hand is who is going to be the first to market with the next great technology? And more importantly who is going to be successful when they introduce it?