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What’s Next for the Automobile

Feature article written for the introduction to the January 2015 issue of Scientific American Classics: The Rise of the Automobile. 

This special issue collects Scientific American articles about cars dating from 1903 through recently, along with an essay by U-M Energy Institute research professor John DeCicco that takes a look at the future evolution of motor vehicles. The issue also contains the 1994 article on “Improving Automobile Efficiency” written by DeCicco and U-M professor of physics Marc Ross (now emeritus), which presaged the fuel economy increases now underway.

In looking ahead, DeCicco predicts that the next big change for cars lies in information technology and automation, which will lead to new designs and ultimately transform transportation in profound ways that are impossible to predict today. Driver assistance features and special forms of wi-fi connectivity will be the first steps toward vehicles that eventually will be able to drive themselves. Most alterative fuels are likely to fall by the wayside, while the widespread adoption of plug-in electric cars is unlikely to occur before vehicles are greatly automated.