The auto industry continues to evolve as higher gas prices, renewed competition and global economic forces put the squeeze on a 125 year old industry. We're seeing change happening faster than ever before, but those changes are expected only to accelerate in coming years. Let's take a look at five new car trends certain to dominate in 2012:
1. 40 MPG or else -- Blame Hyundai for raising the bar so high that every other manufacturer will need to reach higher and quickly. When the Korean automaker released its all new Elantra compact in late 2010, it was the first model to offer the same fuel mileage across all trim levels. That threshold is 40 mpg, something Kia and Hyundai, its corporate cousin, will be meeting with about a half a dozen models for 2012. Hyundai and Kia sales are exploding and you can credit exceptionally good gas mileage for that fact. Other manufacturers are certain to follow suit.
2. Improved safety -- Besides getting excellent gas mileage and offering a comfortable interior, car buying consumers are demanding even safer vehicles. Manufacturers are doing that by offering side curtain air bags, traction control and improved roofs to survive rollovers, but the changes coming down the road include such new devices as inflatable seatbelt airbags and collision avoidance systems.
3. Environmentally friendly -- Consumers want cars that are much more environmentally friendly than vehicles sold just five years ago. Besides building hybrids and electric cars, car shoppers are looking at what goes into these vehicles, namely what sort of filler is placed in seats, in headliners and in carpets. Look for greater amounts of recycled materials to be used. The Ford Fusion Hybrid already features seats made from reclaimed plastics.
4. American made -- Whoever said the U.S. car industry is dying? More cars are made in the United States in recent years than in 2010 or 2009 in part because buyers are looking at cars from General Motors, Chrysler and the Ford Motor Company. They're also buying American built cars produced by Honda, Toyota, Kia, Hyundai and others with some so-called "foreign" manufacturers building cars here for export over there.
5. Leasing, not buying -- Sales will increase over the next few years on the back of leasing, not buying. Consumers are learning that some cars offer an excellent residual value three years out which means lending companies are lowering lease rates to some of the best levels yet. With little to nothing down, consumers are getting behind the wheel of cars they can't afford to buy, but can afford to rent.
There are other trends that will emerge in 2012 including the greater use of eight-speed transmissions, expanded hybrid and electric choices and new in-cabin navigation technologies. However, these five trends will dominate and set the course for an industry now on an upswing.