Today’s cars last longer than ever before. That’s great news for owners and buyers, but it also means your next used purchase could have features that haven’t stood the test of time. We spend a lot of time with new cars, so we’re front row for all these trends in design and features, so we’re going to make some bold predictions. Imagine it’s 2042 and you’re looking at cars from around 2022. What makes you shudder? What will make you smile? Here are eight positions that could rise or fall in the next two decades.
Motion activation and gesture control
In the late 1980s, Nintendo launched a game controller called “U-Force” that used infrared motion sensors to play games without touching the controller. It was awful, but it was a cool novelty. We think the same about touchless controls for cars. The first time we were able to open the tailgate of a Ford Escape by kicking under the rear bumper, we thought it was cool… if we could get it to work. We imagine most interior gesture controls will go much the same way as the U-Force 20 years from now, probably in favor of some form of electronic pseudo-telepathy, but for doors, windows and tailgates? There is still potential there.
Verdict: Potentially cool.
Upholstery is nothing new, but it is certainly more common than ever. The crossover revolution has made textured black plastic the wheel arch material of choice, and with vehicles like Subaru’s Wilderness lineup et al joining the party, the situation only seems to be getting more dire. Which makes sense on cheap, replaceable Jeep fenders looks silly on luxury cars with $65,000 price tags, but their customers don’t seem to care.
Lights are everywhere. Outside, inside – even in places you wouldn’t normally expect. One of the most popular fads of the past decade is ambient lighting. Every car segment, from econoboxes to luxury sedans, has at least one vehicle that comes with LED lighting crammed into every dark nook and cranny of the interior. They integrate with entertainment settings and driving modes and basically anything else that can change the atmosphere in a vehicle. And that’s just inside. In addition, LEDs have made the signature of outdoor lighting the norm, regardless of brand. Sometimes they are cool; sometimes they’re “Fast and Furious” levels of terrible, but good or bad, they’re definitely everywhere. Factory walk-in lights (sometimes called “pee lights”) are especially popular with premium brands, and some recent concepts have even suggested factory underlighting. Will they still impress in 20 years? Maybe, if they still work.
Verdict: Mixed/Potentially Cool
Alcantara, Microsuede, synthetic suede – whatever you call it, synthetic suede only seems to be gaining popularity. What started as an alternative to leather in high-end and performance vehicles has become a staple of any model that tries to be even vaguely sporty. Sure, it has its advantages. It has the same basic look and feel as real suede and is more durable to boot. In most cases, it resists spills, stains, and even fire better than the real thing. When it was first used in cars, it was a nice connection to racing. Things have gone way too far, way too far. Brighten up an interior? Cover it with enough Alcantara to put out a forest fire. Bonus points if it’s anything but black or gray. Both will look like crap in two years; let’s not even think about what will happen after 20.
Verdict: Mostly lame
Carbon fiber and piano black finish
Carbon fiber is in danger of being completely played out. It goes hand in hand with imitation suede as the interior accent for any luxury car that wants to look even slightly sporty. These are often veneers applied to interior trim, and while they may look good, they don’t accomplish the one thing carbon fiber is good for: providing the same structural benefits of heavier materials without the associated weight.
“Piano black,” as glossy black trim is often called, is basically the junior varsity equivalent for more affordable cars. Not only does it cause glare and attract dust and scratches, but it’s so commonplace that just about everyone will be tired of it, even in 2021. Two decades in? weft.
AR is certainly good to see. It’s flashy, has immediate utility and seems to be a perfect fit for a new generation of car buyers who grew up chasing fake monsters in the ‘real’ world using their smartphones. Like gesture controls, there are some practical uses for AR even in today’s market (the giant Mercedes navigation overlay on the windshield is quite impressive, frankly), but with wearables getting smaller and more convenient, we suspect AR, like navigation, will survive as more of a standalone smart feature than an indispensable integrated part in a car infotainment system.
Verdict: Maybe cool
Semi self-driving suites
automatic pilot. fsd. super cruise. Blue cruise. Like faux suede, there are many brand names for self-propelled technology, but they are all pretty much the same and they are all still in the early stages of development. Sure there are decent systems out there, but none that come close to being a full-time solution. As enthusiastic as the automotive industry is about this technology, the global infrastructure will always present challenges with its introduction. While technology is improving rapidly, we’re still skeptical that true self-driving will (or even should be) the ultimate goal of personal transportation.
Verdict: Mostly lame
Matte paint already seems to be waning in popularity, but new models still appear from time to time and the advent of matte vinyl film and paint protection film has given this aesthetic a new lease of life. We think it’s cool now, but we’re not so sure it will still look that way 20 years from now. Early cars with permanently matte finishes are likely to get stolen if their pants aren’t properly cared for, but that’s a daunting task for a new owner. We tend to avoid them altogether, new or otherwise.