Google's self-driving car was another step toward autonomous vehicles this past year. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
2013 was a good year for the American car industry as the economy continues to recover. Many brands posted record sales in November, while Ford this week claimed the No. 1 spot for North American auto sales with an expected 4 million vehicles sold.
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It was also a year where cars became more and more like smartphones, the self-driving car didn't seem like such a pipe dream and the traditional auto sales model got closer to disappearing.
Here are five auto trends that will drive even farther in 2014.
1. Green Cars
Especially with China's smog-filled Beijing as a warning, people are getting serious about lowering auto emissions.
Eight states, including California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, have pledged to increase sales on electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles by making their prices more appealing to consumers, CNN Money reported.
The states aim to increase the number of "green" vehicles on the road to 3.3 million by 2025.
2. Online Car Shopping
The traditional car sales model of going to a dealership and getting talked into a model by a salesman seems quaint today.
Paul Nadjarian, founder and CEO of car-tracking site Mojo Motors, believes today's car shoppers can be savvier than ever by spending time online before going to the dealership.
"I find that the buying experience is broken," he told Auto World News in a recent phone interview. "Buying used cars from a dealership is one of the worst shopping experiences a buyer can have."
Mojo Motors, which Nadjarian says has hundreds of thousands of users and plans to expand nationally this year, allows consumers to follow cars and sign up for email alerts. Shoppers appreciate the immediate gratification that comes with fast alerts and can "shop like an industry insider" with the site's help, Nadjarian told Auto World News.
"It's about the quality of that information and having that info delivered to you in a way that you can understand it quickly and act on it," he said.
"The market is going this direction. People want their technology to be intelligent; they want it to be simple and easy, and it should be."
The car is becoming the ultimate mobile device. 2013 offered connectivity far beyond the standard GPS, and even a device for cars from 1996 ensured that motorists with older vehicles stayed connected.
Reportedly teaming up with German carmaker Audi, Google will announce plans for a new infotainment system based on Android software at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
The goal for Google is to let motorists use music, navigation, apps and services like the ones on their Android smartphones in their vehicles. The tech giant is also set to announce partnerships with tech companies like chip maker Nvidia Corp.
The collaborations stand as Google's response to Apple's recent initiative to integrate iPhones and other iOS-operating devices into vehicle dashboards,
Of course, with power comes responsibility, and many raised concerns last year that new vehicles would be vulnerable to hacking. Some even went so far as to call Google's famous self-driving car "dangerous" partly due to the information it gathers about motorists and their habits.
4. Self-Driving Cars
2013 was a good year for anyone who envisions a completely hands-free ride. While autonomous vehicles still have a somewhat nebulous future, car manufacturers made strides this year with models like a concept that sensed the driver's head direction and eye gaze.
Lawmakers are beginning to support autonomous driving as well. Michigan last month became the fourth state to approve self-driving car research on its public roads, joining California, Nevada and Florida.
5. Rising Sales
Edmunds.com predicts that pent-up demand will continue to boost the car market for an expected 16.4 million new car sales this year, Reuters reported.
"The average age of all light vehicles on the road climbed to 11.4 years in 2013, and an aging fleet will continue to force buyers back to the market next year," said Edmunds.com Chief Economist Dr. Lacey Plache. "With used car prices still elevated over past norms and used car supply still tight, the new car market will remain attractive to many of these buyers."