Each year, I look back at the automotive stories that I feel were the most interesting and impacting from the previous year. There were a lot of big stories to choose from, here are the ones that I watched in 2015.
Autonomous Cars On The Road
Just a few years ago, a self-driving car seemed like a scene from the Jetsons. However, as we head into 2016, it looks like the roads could be full of autonomous cars by 2020. I have reviewed several new vehicles lately that can stay in a lane by themselves, and also maintain the same distance from the car in front, and brake themselves. There are still many unanswered questions, but the progress in 2015 was fast and furious, and I think it is clear these cars are going to become a reality. So how much will the Google car cost, and who would purchase it? That is one of the remaining questions. Looks like answers are not far away.
The Transformation To Crossover SUVs
I talk to a lot of consumers, and have been shocked at the huge numbers of people who want to trade a sedan and get into an SUV. There are numerous reasons, but most cited to me is the ease of getting in and out, easier cargo loading and unloading, improved fuel economy, better visibility, and a ton of new entries from all automakers. In 2015 models, Americans could choose from 96 different crossover models (not counting full-sized SUVs) ranging from the Jeep Patriot with a base price of $16,895 to the Mercedes GL AMG at $119,000. There will be dozens more new entries in the 2016 model year, so the choices will be even more difficult.
Recallafluenza is a term I made up to describe the lack of attention people pay to automotive recalls these days. Even though some of the recalls can be deadly if not performed, people still get in no rush to have the free service performed. 2015 recall numbers were down slightly from the 63 million that set a record in 2014, but between 2014 and 2015 more than 100 million vehicles were recalled. That is well over five times the amount of new vehicles sold in 2015. As the NHTSA continues to strengthen their oversight of the auto industry, the trend is not likely to change.
At the time of me writing this, sales numbers for 2015 were not finalized. My best guess is that when the smoke clears, between 17.4 and 17.5 million vehicles will have been purchased in the United States. 17.5 million would make 2015 the best year in automotive history, and for sure we know 2015 will bring the sixth straight year of sales gains. An improving economy, low gas prices, aggressive incentives, low interest rates, and pent-up demand all contributed to the success of 2015 auto sales.
The VW Emissions Scandal
Numerous people, anticipating this column, asked me if the VW diesel scandal would be my biggest automotive story of 2015. While it arguably got the most press, and without a doubt was the stupidest stunt in recent memory, for me it still was nowhere near the top of the list. First, the numbers of affected vehicles is not that great, nobody’s life is in jeopardy, and many people will choose not to get their cars fixed once VW figures out how to repair the problem. If VW adequately compensates their TDI for the loss of value to their vehicles, this story will quietly and quickly fade away.