The Dodge Intrepid ESX, introduced in 1996 by the Chrysler Corporation, is powered by both a diesel engine and electric motors. Equipped with lead-acid batteries, electric power steering, and an aluminum body, it is about 272 kg (600 lb) lighter than a comparable conventional automobile. In addition, the Intrepid ESX gets about twice the gas mileage as its conventional counterpart.
Future vehicles will likely be made of different materials. For example, improved plastics or composites will reduce car weight, provide fuel economy, allow for smoother surfaces and more complex shapes, and better manage crash energy. As fuel costs increase and the cost of composite body construction decreases, widespread use of plastics could follow. Ceramics, which cut weight and thus improve fuel economy, will increase operating efficiency in applications such as pistons and turbocharger rotors.
The Ford Excursion is one of the largest sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) available in the United States. The popularity of SUVs helped revitalize the U.S. automobile industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But industry critics said the vehicles posed safety problems because of their tremendous weight and evaded pollution controls because they were classified as trucks.
Safety will continue to be a concern for automakers. Airbags have saved numerous lives, but they have also been responsible for injuries and deaths of small children, due to the forceful action of the airbags when they inflate. New rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1997 allowed some consumers to remove the airbags or to disable them when small children are riding in front passenger seats. Another point of controversy concerns the recent popularity of large sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks. When an ordinary car collides with a truck or SUV, studies show that the car passengers are much more likely to suffer injury or death than are the occupants of the larger vehicles. SUVs and trucks are heavier and higher off the ground than ordinary cars and frequently run over the bumpers of ordinary cars during collisions. Industry representatives, government agencies, and insurance groups are currently working on these problems to create practical solutions and increase safety on the road.
The auto industry of the future will be characterized by vanishing boundaries: between countries and companies, between suppliers and manufacturers, between engineering fields, between departments (that is, marketing, design, and finance), between labor and management, and between automotive and consumer electronics. Companies that rapidly adapt to unpredictable and dynamic events will prevail.