Advanced auto tech, including (almost) self-driving cars, is here – but it’s pricey

NOVI – The state of the art of automotive technology was on display for 350 automotive engineers and executives Tuesday at the WardsAuto User Experience Conference at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

The automotive magazine and online content provider passed out its 10 Best UX Awards at lunch at the daylong event, which covered the latest advances in using technology to make driving safer, easier, and more enjoyable.

But the latest in technology doesn’t come cheap. The only affordable car in the 10 best was the Volkswagen Jetta, at about $28,000. Judges praised its custom-configurable instrument cluster, “delivering breathtaking graphics, mapping and functionality, and typically found until now in much more expensive Audi and Porsche luxury cars.” Judges also liked its ventilated seats, premium sound system, quick and easy Bluetooth phone pairing – and even a spoken reminder not to leave your mobile phone in the car.

The Acura RSX and the Cadillac CT6, two of the top 10 winners in automotive UX. Lawarence Technological University photo / Matt Roush

The rest of the winners were heavier on the budget. The winners included loaded versions of the new seven-passenger Subaru Ascent, the Hyundai Santa Fe, and the Chevrolet Equinox, all priced at nearly $40,000. Other winners included luxury models like the Lincoln Navigator ($80,000-plus), the Cadillac CT6 ($55,000 to $89,000), the BMW 640i ($70,000 to $80,000), and the Ford Mustang GT (which can be had as low as $27,000, but which tricked out like the test vehicle tops $45,000). The Acura RDX ranges from $38,000 to $47,000. And then there’s the Ram 1500 pickup, which as tested by WardsAuto neared $60,000.

But those who drive family cruisers rather than dreamboats can take heart. Automotive safety and convenience features like antilock brakes, traction control, climate control – heck, even power windows – were once the exclusive province of luxury cars, and now they’re standard in the most basic of vehicles. Features like adaptive cruise control, which automatically brakes when a car cuts off the lane in front of you, or lane departure warning, which reminds you with a shake of the steering wheel that you’re veering out of a lane without signaling, seem destined for the same future – soon they’ll be everywhere.

In fact, de facto autonomous vehicles are here now. WardsAuto said its testers “drove” a Cadillac CT6 with its Super Cruise hands-and-pedal-free semi-autonomous driving system from Gaylord to metro Detroit – a route familiar to any Michigan vacationer – without once touching the steering wheel, brakes, or gas pedal. “Not even Tesla with its much-ballyhooed AutoPilot offers this level of driver assistance, while guaranteeing the safety of occupants and fellow motorists,” the judges wrote in the conference booklet. “Super Cruise performs flawlessly, from long-distance drives to rainy commutes to bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic.”

During the conference luncheon, Keith Nagara, director of the Bachelor of Science programs in industrial design and transportation design at Lawrence Technological University (pictured above), offered a presentation on a WardsAuto student design competition sponsored by Inteva Products. A class of 12 LTU students is dedicating its fall semester to a design competition to create a special user experience for an automotive brand for the year 2030. The idea is to find new technologies, materials, and UX concepts that can be applied to future vehicle interiors, allowing drivers and passengers to personalize their space within the vehicle, and to create relationships with brands rather than specific vehicles.

Check for updates on the competition. The winner gets a $2,500 LTU scholarship.

Nagara also described the battle over automotive UX as a classic conflict between the rational, logical left brain and the wild, creative, artistic left brain.

Panel discussions at the event included using artificial intelligence in the automotive cockpit, innovations outside the auto industry, personalizing auto platforms, minimizing distraction while adding features, advanced materials for controls, safety and biometrics, and general trends in vehicle interiors.


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