The coming year will see the automobile undergo a radical revolution as manufacturers shift gear to meet consumers’ insatiable need for high-tech options.
The shift was symbolised this week by the launch of the first right-hand drive Ford Mustang in South Africa, 50 years after the original American version began its journey to iconic status. While the 2016 edition remains true to Mustang’s heritage of muscle cars, it also carries a heavy overlay of connectivity and “assistive” technology that is usually associated with 21st century innovation.
High-tech features include voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, eight-inch colour touch screen, dual USB ports and SD card slot. In reverse, a video display with parking sensors guides the driver precisely. A Track Apps function includes an accelerometer, acceleration timer and brake performance display.
These are becoming standard types of features in new luxury cars, but are startling in a Mustang.
“We like to say we democratise technology,” says Joel Piaskowski, who was responsible for the design of the new Mustang in his previous role as Director of Exterior Design for the Americas. He has now been appointed head of design for Ford Europe
“We made a conscious decision to progress the car to capture a new customer for the next 50 years. We had to look to the future and say, how can we bring in a new customer, a younger customer, but still see the roots of the car?
In 2016, however, technology will not be merely a selling point
“Technology is there to enable a better driving experience. We have many means of interacting with technology, like Bluetooth and voice recognition. These systems are all aimed at a safer, more enjoyable driving experience.”
Piaskowski, who was in South Africa briefly for the launch of the Mustang, is now tasked with leading the design of all concept and production vehicles in Europe. He believes technology has not yet complicated his job, but that is about to change.
“From the point of view of styling the vehicle, it will become more of a challenge as we get into semi-autonomous and eventually fully autonomous vehicles, which are still a few years out.
“Ford currently employs lane-keeping assistance, radar control, and speed and distance control. But as the technology develops and we get more of it, we’ll be looking at different ways to present displays and communication devices to both drivers and passengers.”
This means the car of the near feature has to cater for more than one audience. In the past, it would have meant duplicating features to ensure everyone gets a piece of the action. Interactive screen technology changes the interior landscape completely.
“One of the trends is to declutter interiors to enable a better and more conducive environment for driver and passenger,” says Piaskowski. “That means relying more on technology to deliver the information, whether critical driving information or, in the case of passengers, crucial social information.”
Piaskowski expects passengers to have a lot more interaction with vehicles. Different technologies for multi-display screens, heads up displays, big screens and reconfigurable displays are all being explored, both by Ford and its competitors.
“We’re at the tip of an iceberg at moment. Technology develops by the month, but development time of an automobile is from three to five years. The challenge to forecast where technology is going and either develop it internally or work with partners to develop it with enough future in it.”
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee.