Big changes in industry for 2018


Special to ADAMM

Blink at any time during the next 12 months and you just might miss a major development in the evolution of the automobile.

Or two or three.

Industry analysts say 2018 will be the year fully electric and gas/electric hybrid vehicles join their gas-only cousins in the big leagues and crossover vehicles that blend aspects of sedans, SUVs, station wagons, hatchbacks—even sports cars—are expected to continue their march to dominance among vehicles that aren’t pickup trucks.

Those trends say a lot about how times are changing. But, wait! There’s more! In 2018, Cadillac is introducing a CT6 that can do the lion’s share of the driving on the open road.

• Cruising toward autonomy

“We had a professional driver bring a car down from Minneapolis as a demo, and he said he drove all the way without touching the steering wheel, the gas pedal or the brake,” said Tom Piontkowski, sales consultant for CREST Cadillac of Brookfield. “It’s absolutely tremendous. The car stays within four inches of the centerline, and in stop-and-go traffic, it keeps the right distance from what’s in front of you. And if they stop, you stop.”

Forbes.com contributor Jim Gorzelany says the CT6 sedan’s “Super Cruise” enhances familiar systems like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and blind spot and lane-monitoring with self-steering capability and LiDAR scanning that makes a 3D map of the road for the car to follow.

It can take the pressure off you as the driver, Piontkowski said, but don’t think it’ll let you check Facebook, play Minecraft or take a carefree snooze. Super Cruise keeps track of the driver, too.

“It takes a laser picture of your face, and if you turn away for too long, or if it detects that you’re not paying attention, it has warnings to get you back on focus,” Piontkowski said.

Cadillac’s website says a light bar on the steering wheel starts by flashing green, but goes to red if you don’t respond. Beeps and seat vibrations come next, followed by a “command for you to take control of the vehicle.” If that still doesn’t do it, the car will turn on the hazard lights, slow down, stop—and then contact OnStar so that advisers can ask if you need help.

The website says Super Cruise can’t be used in the city or during bad weather, but reviewers like Gorzelany say it’s a landmark on the road to fully autonomous vehicles. Piontkowski said you can order a 2018 CT6 now, but the cars aren’t due in showrooms until a later in the year.

• CUVs rule

Researchers at IHS Automotive said that a third of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2017 were mid-size and compact SUVs, aka “crossovers,” eclipsing sedans in the process.

“We see the trend continuing,” said IHS senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. “The midsize sedan traditionally had been the family car, and that is a natural market for utility vehicles. A compact SUV can give you almost as much utility and space as a midsize car.”

That’s pretty much the way SCHLOSSMANN’S Honda City sales rep Peter Froelich sees it.

“A lot of people don’t need or want a full-size SUV, but like the versatility of a crossover vs. a sedan,” he said. Plus, many buyers feel safer riding higher than they would in a sedan, he said, while others like the height for hauling bikes and gear for outdoor activities.

“We started seeing the trend in 1997 when the CR-V came out and really took off,” Froelich said. “It’s the perfect size—and you don’t have to break the bank.”

The CR-V has been a top seller for most of its 20-year history—and its reputation is rock solid. USNews.com named it the No. 1 small SUV of 2017.

“One year removed from a full redesign,” the website says, “the CR-V provides plenty of utility and has ample seating and class-leading cargo volume.” Quality interior materials “make every trip a pleasant one.”

Kelley Blue Book’s Top 10 Consumer-Reviewed SUVs include the CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Audi Q3 and Q7, Kia Sportage, Subaru Crosstrek, BMW X4, Mazda CX-3 and CX-9 and Chevrolet Traverse.

• Electric powers up

Global electric car sales surpassed 2 million in 2016, a 60% increase from 2015—and as automakers introduce more all-electric models and increase their driving range, the upward trend is expected to continue even if gas remains cheap.

But it’s not just about mileage any more. Automakers now pair gas and electric motors to improve horsepower and torque. Such is the case, for example, with the 2018 Volvo SC90 T8 full-size SUV, which has two motors that make 400 hp.

Autotrader.com’s reviewer says a familiar player, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan, “will play a vital role in helping the public feel more comfortable with the idea of owning an electric car.”

Introduced in 2011, the Volt “offers the best of both worlds” because it can run on power derived from a wall outlet for 53 miles, then continue for 370 miles more on electricity generated by a small gas engine.

A.J. LaPorta, sales consultant for NEWMAN Chevrolet in Cedarburg, says many owners are already so comfortable that they’ve traded in leased Volts for newer ones.

“One of my customers loved his Volt so much that he replaced the minivan his family used for long trips with a second Volt because they would use less fuel traveling in two plug-in cars than one gas-powered one,” LaPorta said.

“No matter what the price of gas is, at the end of the day, you still have to fill up the tank.”

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