Big auto shows like last month’s NAIAS are an excuse for dozens of car manufacturers to all gather under one roof and show off upcoming models, technology, concepts and future plans. It’s also one of the few times throughout the year you’ll get rival names like Ford and Chevy to amicably park their latest and greatest in adjacent square footage. Take a longer look around the show floor and key themes begin to crop up – design details, technologies and vehicle types begin to reveal themselves more as industry trends than unique news from an individual marque.
Trends and technology naturally become obsolete over time. That’s why we don’t see big taillight fins or jet-age styling anymore; instead, we have homogenous CUVs and cars nearly drive themselves. It’s all a matter of fashion and engineering capability. These are the design, technology and style trends we hope to see more of in 2019.
More Factory-Built Overlanders
Jeep has been in on the adventure lifestyle game for years now, offering whole catalogs full of factory add-ons, particularly to make their iconic Wrangler 4×4 even more capable off-road and custom-fit to individual owners’ tastes. Considering how much interest has poured into overlanding in the past few years, it makes sense that other manufacturers are starting to follow suit.
Ford, of course, is introducing the new Bronco later this year, but the Ranger pickup is the Blue Oval’s first modern attempt at building a truck purely for recreational entertainment. It only takes one look at the Ranger’s options list – which includes 30-plus Yakima products like roof racks, roof top tents and bike racks – to realize where Ford is aiming its new mid-sized pickup. Chevy has the Colorado Bison AEV edition, Jeep is doubling down with the Gladiator and Toyota recently revamped the TRD line.
At this point, if a manufacturer is still only considering an overlanding-focused version of its SUV or pickup or just testing the waters with concepts like the Kia Telluride, they’re only delaying the inevitable. If those marques wait any longer, they risk getting left behind — which is why 2019 will be more likely than not see an explosion of adventure vehicles straight from the factory.
Light Weight To Take Importance Over Power
The current horsepower war needs to end soon. Whether you look at the 650 hp Cadillac CTS-V, the new 700 hp-plus Mustang GT 500 or the handful of supercars flirting with or eclipsing the four-digit mark, no matter the price range, it’s getting ridiculous. Not only are the majority of these cars’ power being not being put to use, super-high horsepower is counter-intuitive to the direction the industry is heading as a whole.
McLaren already announced its push to focus more on lightweight technologies rather than “just” cranking up the boost on the turbos. Performance wise, a lighter car means there’s less weight for the engine to move and less weight transfer in corners. Efficiency-wise, less weight effectively means better fuel consumption. Lotus founder Colin Chapman said it best: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” We’re already at a point where most cars crank out a surplus of power, most of it going unused most of the time. A usable level of power combined with a well-tuned, lightweight chassis can be a true track weapon, not to mention wildly entertaining on a canyon road.
Affordable, Good-Looking All-Electric Cars
Compared to 10 years ago, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to good-looking electric cars. There’s the upcoming Porsche Taycan, the entire Tesla range and the out-of-this-world Rimac supercar. Still, throw in “affordable” as a criterion and you’re left the Tesla Model 3. There are other affordable electric cars, but the Kia SOul EV and Smart Fortwo don’t exactly scream design excellence.
It’s a shame “affordable EV” translates to oversized kitchen appliance with wheels, but 2019 could be a year of change. Ford hinted that an all-electric Mustang car was on the way; the Audi e-Tron inherits Audi’s understated design language; the Volkswagen I.D line looks promising. Electric vehicles are the way forward, but if manufacturers want the masses to adopt them, faster, desirable, emotion-evoking designs are a nust.
More “Back to Basics” Trim Sports Cars
BMW recently made it known that the next BMW M3 and M4 will come with a new “Pure” trim level featuring a manual transmission and rear-drive-only drivetrain. The Pure trim will also feature basic interiors, going so far as to delete some creature comforts to save weight and lower the price. This could be in response to the success and applause Porsche garnered when it announced its Touring trims for the 911 and 718 ranges which also focused more on the driving experience rather than low lap times.
The world of sports cars is increasingly becoming laden with computer aides, electronic steering systems, active suspensions and aerodynamics. While all of that technological progress is inevitable, it can seem overwhelming, especially for purists. There aren’t any doubts the Pure M cars will be a hit like the Porsche Touring models. Hopefully, more marques catch on and offer similar trims.
Hybrid Power for More Affordable Performance Cars
Aside from the Acura NSX, the only performance cars using battery power to suppliment engine power are multi-million dollar supercars. Of course there are plenty of hybrid economy cars and sedans that deploy battery power to help the engine along, but more for efficiency than speed. When it come to outright performance, the technology comes at a price.
However, this may be the year affordable performance cars will finally see hybrid powertrains make their way to the segment. Based on patents filed by Chevy and Ford, both the highly anticipated mid-engine Corvette and an upcoming Mustang are rumored to get hybrid power. The current-generation Porsche 911 was built with a hybrid model in mind and Porsche all but confirmed it will be the quickest accelerating 911 in history. Once these top-tier sports cars take on the technology, it’ll only be a matter of time before it trickles down to even more affordable performance cars, but expect the trend to get its start this year.