From new technology to social change, the events of the past 12 months will impact cars and transportation for years to come. Here's ten ways we predict 2010 changed the future of what you'll drive.
Photo Credit: Chrisamichaels via Flickr
2010 will be remembered as the year that flying in a commercial airliner lost whatever smidgen of enjoyment it had left. The Transportation Security Administration pat-downs and body scanners turned its inspections into encounters many Americans thought they'd saved for a doctor's office or their bedrooms; pilots revolted while embarrassments mounted. Weather played havoc in winter, while a volcano grounded much of Europe for a summer month. AAA estimated 92.3 million people will drive for the holidays this year, none of whom will be groped without permission.
Faced with tougher fuel economy rules around the world, automakers started rolling out smaller turbocharged engines across their lineups, from the Nissan Juke to the BMW M5. If Ford can sell a turbo V6 as a top-line engine to the infamously picky pickup owners, there's no vehicle that couldn't benefit from a little extra boost.
After four years of toil, the Chevrolet Volt finally scooted out of the factory, doing pretty much what GM had promised it would do — drive about 35 miles on electricity, without "range anxiety." Every major automaker has some kind of electric or plug-in hybrid combo in the works, and the rollouts will come quickly over the next few years — as long as the money from governments around the world easing the high costs of their batteries keep flowing.
Thanks to Toyota's taunting of U.S. regulators over defects it knew about but didn't fix to save money, automakers decided to make a point of issuing more recalls this year, with some 20 million vehicles recalled in the United States alone. Meanwhile, those same regulators pushed for new powers and vowed to step up enforcement for problems that automakers might not otherwise want to fix.
With the unveiling of its driverless car, Google took the first step to fixing what CEO Eric Schmitt called "the bug that cars were invented before computers." Similar trials in Europe aimed to replace drivers with a combination of software and sensors that promise to remove the human element from driving. Because we all know how flawlessly software runs...
Automakers have been trying to make buyers feel like little Mario Andrettis for years by including switches for "sport" mode in a suspension or transmission. This year the Nissan's Leaf went the other way; it's "Eco" mode actually makes the gas pedal stiffer, requiring drivers to think harder about burning energy. But Ford showed what's really possible with modern control systems via its TracKey system, giving Mustang Boss owners the ability to engage a full race-car mode with a single super key.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's ongoing battle against distracted driving produced results, with 30 states banning texting while driving by the end of the year along with a continuing line of public service announcements. There's no proof the laws are actually reducing crashes, but LaHood's still brainstorming other ways to pursue the problem, like jamming cellphone signals.
Did the Great Awakening come to the potentates of Volkswagen, Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren and others as they huddled together in a Swiss chalet? Or individually, asleep under their 1000-threadcount sheets, suffering nightmares of 6,000-lb. SUVs? However it came, the realization that the next generation of supercars would need to be lighter via massive amounts of carbon fiber spread like a glue fire in the 458 Italia's engine bay. With a few exceptions...
It wasn't just Wall Street that decided cars and trucks from Detroit automakers might be worth something. Whether in sales or quality surveys, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler made a reasonable comeback from the depths of the Carpocalypse, while replacing some of their worst models with more competitive ones. Hating on Detroit will always be in style in some circles, but there's fewer reasons than ever for doing so.