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Buying a New Car: Get Up-To-Speed With New Features

Tech updates for vehicle fleets, remote workers & getting around town.

Shopping for our first new car in over seven years, my wife and I realized that we have become out of touch with all the incredible modern features in vehicles.

New car technology has been added at a fast and furious rate, and this will have huge application not only in the consumer world, but also for business vehicle fleets, corporate rentals and for employees who rely on cars to get their jobs done.

Our latest car, picked up in February, has all the ‘must-haves’ and more. This car is by no means an expensive luxury vehicle, but it can do incredible things and tell me so much about itself that it makes my jaw drop. The car is a Ford Focus, and it packs a technological punch.

As a writer, I rely upon my car just like a salesperson, remote worker or technician. You can miss an opportunity or customer issue because you couldn’t take the call from a potential client. But the new Focus ‘pairs’ with my iPhone and uses SYNC technology from Microsoft to let me take hands-free calls using the car’s speakers while driving. As a reminder, it is illegal in Manitoba and dangerous to drive while operating your smartphone.

The differences between my new and old car don't stop there. Now, I can do a variety of new tasks:

  • Use voice commands: Speaking a command like ‘call Eric at work’ will activate the voice command feature, and the car will search through my iPhone contact list and dial Eric.
  • Read SMS: Let SYNC read text messages aloud to me.
  • Get 911 Assist: Relax knowing 911 Assist is there to keep me in touch if I ever have an accident by connecting my Bluetooth device (aka smartphone) directly to that system.
  • Connect my device: It's pretty straightforward, but just having the ability to quickly charge my phone or play music from my devices via the USB connection is handy. This feature comes in the majority of new cars, and you may also be able to pair the device Bluetooth the car so playing music and files will work wirelessly.
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Business Applications of New Car Tech

Companies with fleet vehicles would see benefit from the host of diagnostic tools available in today’s cars. For example, I can verbally tell the car to run a vehicle health report, and the results will be sent directly to my email. The diagnostic system can send you a text message when there is an urgent issue with the vehicle or send you reminders to run a health report based on a time period or kilometres driven.

Turning the car on and taking a quick look at the instrument cluster gives you a glimpse of the many useful features now available for any driver, whether it’s for business or pleasure. Trip odometers have been around for decades and nothing much has changed there, but vehicles can now tell you how long you’ve been driving and how long it’ll be at your current fuel consumption rate before you’ll need to gas up. That's practical when running from meeting to meeting and making sure you're fueled up to get to your next destination.

For businesses with efficiency in mind (aka every business), additional indicators can be very handy to ensure your cars and trucks are always running at peak performance. There are indicators to let you know when your tire pressure is low, when you need to refill the windshield washer fluid (especially helpful this time of year) and various other warnings signalling when you can optimize your vehicle.

Amazing Features Gaining Popularity

My little Ford is by no means alone when it comes to high-tech features. The ever-popular list-loving Buzzfeed notes key features from other new vehicles that demonstrate how we've stepped into the future. Some of my favourite features include:

  • Built-in 4G LTE hotspots to keep you connected
  • Cameras that let you see all around the car
  • ‘Zero-gravity’ seats that help you forget about fatigue on long drives
  • Military-grade aluminum that your cars and trucks considerably lighter, cheaper on fuel and easier to handle
  • Heated wiper blades (my personal fave)
  • GPS that analyzes traffic and gives you a way around tie-ups, including traffic light recognition

Forbes Magazine also listed its top new car features with practical applications for business. The list once again goes far beyond my fun Ford Focus, and shows off the potential of new vehicle tech no matter what the brand.

  • Driving Assistance: "The 2016 BMW 7 Series luxury sedan’s available Active Driving Assistant Plus feature can likewise help maintain the car within highway lane markers at speeds up to 130 mph, and will actually prevent the driver from changing lanes if there’s another vehicle in his or her blind spot." They also make note of Tesla’s Autopilot feature which can be downloaded from the company—a pretty cool feature in itself. Autopilot can adjust the vehicle speed and change lanes when you use the turn signal.
  • Watching out for you: Honda’s Lane Watch system, available on some models, will show the driver what's happening on the right side of their car when they're about to turn. Explaining the feature, they call this "a more active form of blind spot monitoring, it helps the driver identify pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles that may be lurking alongside the vehicle while turning or changing lanes."
  • Keeping tabs: Some higher-end Chevrolet and Cadillac models offer an onboard HD video recorder to give drivers a record of their driving exploits. Useful, perhaps, in the event of an accident.
  • Driver monitoring: The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu offers a Teen Driver feature that's clearly aimed at parents of young new drivers, but could also have a great application for companies with vehicle fleets. The feature lets you "monitor someone's driving via an onscreen data report, including distance driven and maximum speed reached." On the audio side of its feature set, it also mutes your music if you aren't wearing your seatbelt and will tell you if you're going over a preset speed. That's a nice safety touch.
  • Car/smartphone connectivity: Several vehicles now offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity systems that are similar to your smartphone interface, and show directly on your car's display screen. This will let you make calls and send or receive messages, hopefully only when you're stationary. You can do even more with this connectivity feature by using voice commands.
  • Best new feature: According to Forbes, the top new car feature could be the self-driving car, and we're only a few years away from cars that drive themselves being rolled out on a larger scale. (How they handle Manitoba weather and subsequent potholes might be another story). Both Google and Tesla have launched test vehicles to varying degrees of success, but it seems like sometime in the very near future people will be able to leave the driving to the car and concentrate on their work while heading from one meeting location to another.

What's To Come?

If it’s only a matter of time for the self-driving car, what does the future hold for even more advanced car tech? There are several companies in advanced stages of development with variations on the flying car, including AeroMobil and Terrafugia. This will take car technology to completely new heights.

For some old-school insight, you might want to look at an episode of The Jetsons where George famously flies to work in his car. Maybe this cartoon tech will become a thing of our not-so-distant future.

What new car tech have you found to be the most beneficial? Tell us in the comments below.

Up Next: The City of Winnipeg’s smart new Transportation Management Centre (TMC) is receiving attention from all over—"Winnipeg traffic lights get ‘smarter’"

Winnipeg traffic lights get ‘smarter’

Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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