2020 cars? Small, light, 'increasingly electrified'

Automotive News reports on the Automotive News World Congress, where a panel of industry experts predicted the car of 2020.

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DETROIT -- Car shoppers in 2020 will find vehicles that are smaller, lighter and equipped with a wide range of power trains and materials.

Five industry executives offered their predictions for the 2020 model year at a panel on global product development for North America at last week's Automotive News World Congress.

By 2020, the panelists agreed, plug-in hybrids and battery-powered vehicles will be commonplace. But they also laid out differing paths that their companies will follow to get there.

"It is not a question of whether those technologies will exist," said Jon Lauckner, General Motors vice president for global program management. "The only question is, how fast are they going to roll out?"

The cars for the 2020 model year will be "increasingly electrified in a big way," he said. That technology is required to meet new, higher fuel-economy regulations.

"We are not going to meet these standards by magically cloning an internal combustion engine that does double what it does today," Lauckner said. "We made a huge investment in the Chevrolet Volt because we believe that is a huge technology that is going to be in the mainstream."

And not just in the United States. Indeed, he said, GM's revival will be aided by the automaker's increasingly global product development.

Lower consumption

Barb Samardzich, Ford Motor Co. vice president for global powertrain engineering, said she expects vehicles that are lighter, smaller and considerably more fuel efficient by 2020. But the power trains will reflect the country's energy policy.

"You could generate a fleet that is 100 percent electric," she said. "But it will depend on having a policy that wants to drive us in that direction and then sets up the corresponding infrastructure."

"What kind of energy policy do we establish in this country?" Samardzich asked. Tax incentives for battery manufacturers and buyers need to be considered so the vehicles are affordable, she said.

But Samardzich added that North American success now is tied to global success. So regardless of one country's energy policy, automakers need to pursue brand consistency and a strong focus on customer needs.

Frank Klegon, Chrysler LLC executive vice president for product development, predicted more variety for the consumer in the 2020 model year, not a universal migration to small cars. Customers' "behavior and demand are not going to change," he said.

"The focus will be on reducing the energy the vehicle consumes" regardless of the vehicle's size, he said, whether that is accomplished by "weight reduction or some other things."

But he said the average vehicle might be smaller than today's.

Tying up with Fiat will give Chrysler new small models and efficient powertrains, Klegon said.

More features

John Krafcik, acting CEO of Hyundai Motor America, agreed that the market might move to a smaller segment.

Krafcik said he thinks the average car will be similar in size to the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Ford Focus, with a 1.4- to 1.6-liter gasoline engine.

But the cars of that size may not be notably lighter than today's because they'll be loaded with more features. The need for high quality will remain a constant, Krafcik said.

Small engines, hybrids, diesels, and more fuel-efficient gasoline engines will be in the marketplace, as well as some electric vehicles, said Ted Robertson, chief technical officer at supplier Magna International Inc.

Suppliers will need to have a range of vehicle expertise equal to that of the automakers--covering chassis, power train and other areas--in order to form strong partnerships with their customers, he said.

For example, Robertson said, "We are working inside Magna on a lot of weight-saving materials."

(Source: Automotive News)

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